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Subject: Nabucco (Met broadcast and Live in HD) from hell - review and comments
From: David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 8 Jan 2017 08:34:16 -0500
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Nabucodonosor has never been, for the great breakthrough in more than 
one respect it proved to be for its composer, a great favorite of mine 
among the Verdi canon.  One day perhaps we can restore to it the driving 
impetus of the Italian risorgimento as central imagery to it as opposed to 
what has hijacked it, in the name of whatever - towards making an encore 
out of 'Va, pensiero.'  More  about that later.   I hold the stodgy, tired 
Elijah Moshinsky production of this at the Met, with its uselessly drab set 
design by Michael Yeargan, in considerably less high regard.   For the life of 
me, I could not see investing either the time or money to make it to the 
local cinema here to actually sit through this thing.  Quite frankly, it was 
sufficiently a trial to sit through two-thirds of the broadcast of it yesterday.
Should my information about, both septugenarians,  Placido Domingo and 
James Levine been limited to what I heard yesterday, except for elements 
from both hinting at the memory of some grasp of Verdian idiom and style 
when it comes to Verdi, I wonder.  I really wonder.

Ironically, the afternoon began promisingly, with a fine display by the Met 
orchestra for the sinfonia, apart from stilted accenting, increasingly a 
problem from Levine as the afternoon wore on, for the more agitated 
passages thereof.  Noble brass chorale opening it and lyrical pages were 
lovingly shaped.   Dmitri Belosselskiy - a sonorous, very healthy sounding 
Angelotti in Houston a year ago - started promisingly as Zaccaria, with fine 
sense of gravitas, with chorus preceding him equally well focused, but then 
one heard the dry low notes and an increased pushing up the sound and 
woof sending intonation askew on the top notes.   The preghiera for him 
and chorus in Act Two provided us similar results, but as an oasis in the 
midst of much offal, both vocally and musically overall.

And then several cows entered the stage for taking on the roles of Ismaele, 
Fenena, and Abigaille.  Encouraged by an over-emphatic James Levine, 
Russell Thomas took on Ismaele, with its obvious some proto-Manrico 
writing in the part but supplied with a voice one cut above what one might 
expect for a Spoletta or Trabuco - shall the Met next cast David Cangelosi 
or Eduardo Valdes for the part?.  Thomas however went about increasingly 
approaching his assignment, complete with vulgar bench-pressing as 
though he might be out to prove he is God's gift to the title role in Verdi's 
Otello.  After all, a major house or two has cast Russell Thomas already as 
Pollione.  Do yourself a favor and watch Jon Vickers - opposite Montserrat 
Caballe - as Pollione from the Orange Festival - should you think I am 
being harsh.  Jamie Barton got off to a decent start- she has a fine voice - 
but with suspect technique and grasp of style, her brief aria in the final 
scene of the opera quickly became heavy-handed- and a little choppy.

Lyudmila Monastyrska, at first a sensation at Royal Opera in Verdi's 
Macbeth approximately seven years ago, got to an uncertain start as 
Abigaille.  Less obvious for sure for the Tosca that was a success for her in 
Houston a year ago, her voice now for something like this does not so 
much have three registers as much as it breaks up into three voices, one 
or two of them- except for her croaking of a few low notes - that are quite 
attractive, except that they do not connect with each other at all 
meaningfully.  Intonation for especially any sustained notes above the 
passaggio was a mess, as was the almost entirely fudged coloratura.   Her 
final 'dying' arioso quickly de-evolved into a series of entirely disjunct 
fletcherized verismo gestures.  Who was the singer John Steane quoted in 
his book on singers as having asked somebody if he or she had heard the 
screaming as Abigaille on Muti's EMI recording of this opera?  Nudge, 
nudge, wink, wink.

Some of Monastyrska's declamation at the opening of her grand scena 
came off halfway authoritatively, then to be completely hit-and-miss - to 
practically be more of what we should expect for Berio's writing for voice 
-once any such writing re-emerged.  Vocalized wordless gestures from 
several cast members at several nodal points were equally over-the-top.    
This was a Nabucco very long on the pretension of being a great 
performance of the work, but with, apart from a fine orchestra, most of the 
goods or ingredients for such left at home.  Placido Domingo presented a 
Nabucco devoid of any authority, menace, nobility, with a voice almost 
completely tatters.  Less challenging passages in a comprimario baritone 
voice, halfway came off, but little else.  I mercifully took a rain check on 
the finest number in the entire opera - not 'Va, pensiero' - but the scena 
between Abigaille and Nabucco.

Just as much as it had been with Luciano Pavarotti singing Verdi in the 
past, so it is today with James Levine conducting it.  That either name is 
there as an imprimatur is no guarantee of greatness - especially not ahead 
of time - and yet the attitude albeit devoid of much substance - came off 
that way entirely.  Some of the right tinta for Verdi's Nabucco was there; 
some of it was not - such that renders itself void if/when combined with 
shapeless rhythms and grasp of form.  Chorus that follows the preghiera in 
Act Two is such into which Verdi writes contrasts in dynamics between 
pianissimo and fortissimo for which at best I heard a range between 
something approaching mezzo-forte up through a loud forte.  Some 
accenting for sure was good for ensembles, but increasingly with the 
proportions in which such accenting takes place sent out to left field to 
render one ensemble towards the end of Act Two (before the interval) 
almost unrecognizable.  Some of the reason was to streamline the passage 
- making it sound more like something off an Andrea Bocelli 'Volare' cd - if 
such exists - than a part of Verdi's Nabucco.  

The final coup de grace was the playing of music clearly scored for banda in 
Act Four - a slow procession of sorts - loudly in the orchestra pit, coming 
off completely wonky, sounding as though the timing for the passage to 
show up could have been altogether a mistake.   I spent Christmas this 
year watching Wagner's Gotterdammerung, filmed at Bayreuth in 1997, 
conducted by Levine, at the very peak of his powers in Wagner - I've never 
heard Levine do anything better.  Could what I had heard Saturday be the 
same man, musician?  I shudder at the thought.

Except for a few further observations to make, so ends this review of 
Verdi's Nabucco at the Met.  Some scholarship - that I have believed for 
too long a period of time - credits I Lombardi as the first Verdi opera to call 
for a banda.  A particular context perhaps may have intended to be 
conveyed, but apparently this is not true just to be stated point-blank.   I 
do not want to as of yet name any names, though I admit I do have one in 
mind.  Needless to say, if one wants to save cost in a responsible manner 
on this Nabucco, for what the Met pays its stagehands, let's first of all do 
away with the repeat of 'Va, pensiero.'  It is totally insipid -and seems also 
at cross-purposes not only with Verdi but with the fine work Daniel 
Barenboim is committed to with the orchestra he (together with Edward 
Said) set up in Palestine.  Saying Verdi's Nabucco is about the Babylonian 
captivity of the Jewish people is comparable to explaining George Orwell's 
Animal Farm to be about zoology.  

One lister complained about a neighboring patron rattling candy and plastic 
wrappers from her purse during 'Va, pensiero' yesterday.  I instead 
wholeheartedly endorse anybody reading this, next time they may attend 
this production of Nabucco to rattle keys, turn on cell-phones, rattle candy 
and candy wrappers, loudly clear throats, do whatever.   It is such that 
that this wanton practice at the Met fully deserves - in spades!   At least a 
few audience members yesterday had the spine to loudly boo what we 
heard yesterday.  What I would give for such a presentation of Verdi's 
Nabucco to have shown up at La Scala thirty years ago.  Talk about a 
baptism by fire; the gallery would have roasted it, with much of the rest of 
the audience to join in, with whatever collection of tomatoes, eggs, etc to 
hurl at the stage.   

Two further suggestions would make the project complete, though one of 
them a plausible impossibility.  The easier one - someone from the gallery 
to erupt with 'Verdi ti maledice' to break off all the 'non maledicarmi's a 
minute before the end.   I am reminded of Carlo Bini at La Scala having 
been greeted at end of his opening aria for the great prison scene from 
Vespri siciliani with 'Assasino di Verdi' from the gallery there one year. The 
other would be for the shade of Lamberto Gardelli to make an appearance - 
especially had it been true in some way that I Lombardi was the first Verdi 
opera to include a banda - and render James Levine deaf and mentally 
incoherent and the keys of the Met endowment to fall into the hands of 
Peter Gelb suddenly afflicted with a severe addiction to gambling - with 
only the promise of restoring the banda to previously abused Verdi operas 
for the curse to be reversed.  

It one day some twenty-plus years ago got into the hands of a local 
newspaper that Lamberto Gardelli, recently hired in place of an ailing Emil 
Tchakarov (who succumbed to HIV/AIDS two years later) that he had very 
soon after arriving for a production of Rigoletto then walked out on it with 
promise by one recently notable impresario having told him he could 
neither have a banda for the opening scene of Rigoletto (!) nor a second 
full orchestral dress rehearsal.  Now all this begins to sound like Peter Gelb 
- the other whore  in charge of the Met as of late - though it wasn't.  

Five or six hours after the company found out that the newspaper knew 
what had transpired, the company had found a young Croatian to take 
Gardelli's place, who three years later, with a revival of the same Rigoletto, 
became music director of the company.  The wording of the backing out - 
or walkout plenty ahead of time, especially should the press not have 
learned of what happened was presumably something as follows:  'I am a 
seventy-four year old man.  I do not need this job.  Should you not want to 
do Rigoletto ...... '   He presumably caught the next plane back to Europe.  
Given what an esteemed Verdi scholar and musician Gardelli was - having 
made premiere commercial recordings of at least six or seven early Verdi 
operas, including I Lombardi - what could anybody expect.

Verdi tutti di voi maledice!  :-)


David H Spence

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