Verdi’s Nabucco, his third opera and first success, is a tough piece to stage successfully given much of the action happens offstage and is commented upon by the characters in a series of tableaux. The music, whilst having some highlights, is earthy and occasionally uneven too – the personalities rather two-dimensional for the most part. That being said, in a concert performance when a well-matched cast gives of their best to the under a singer-friendly conductor Nabucco can be hugely enjoyable.
The Overture set the scene with Gianluca Marcianò setting a pace that would have tested a well-oiled professional orchestra, the potpourri of good tunes given full rein. The Chelsea Opera Orchestra was on fine fettle, with really good brass-playing and some notable contributions from the cellos. The Chorus relished its moments in the spotlight at ‘Va pensiero’ and generally managed to be heard over the orchestral tumult, although a few more members would have helped.
The cast was extremely impressive and suitable for other early Verdi operas, such as Attila and Macbeth. The most treacherous role is Abigaille. Helena Dix proved to be a superb exponent. The top of the voice had both steely gleam and power – and yet there was also extraordinary poise evident at critical moments. She does a great snarl and her edgy chest register has real punch. All the contradictions of this ambitious, cunning personality registered – a barnstorming performance.
In the title-role David Kempster gave a trenchant account of the over-confident King, showing his excellent diction and his solid baritone to advantage. The Part Three duet with Dix was especially memorable, as was his lyrical ‘Dio di Giuda’. David Soar also unleashed a flood of his warm and generous bass, and displayed a keen sense of line. This was a super interpretation; he dominated the scenes he was in. In the somewhat thankless role of Ismaele Peter Auty provided sterling support, albeit at a fairly unremitting forte and his tendency to approach notes from below was occasionally distracting. Clare Presland was a rich-voiced Fenena, her voice blending remarkably well with Dix’s in the Part One ‘trio’. Emily Blanch gave Anna more prominence that one would have imagined possible and David Ireland thundered impressively as the High Priest.