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The King and Our Epiphanies

Giuseppe Verdi: NABUCCO
29 April, on Monday, The Royal Opera House of Covent Garden (Live in HD)
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti, stage direction: Daniele Abbado;
Plácido Domingo (Nabucco), Liudmyla Monastyrska (Abigaille), Witalij Kowaljow (Zaccaria), Marianna Pizzolato (Fenena), Andrea Carè (Ismaele), Robert Lloyd (Marele preot Baal), Dusica Bijelic (Anna), David Butt Philip (Abdalo) etc.

It has become almost a cliché. Every time Plácido Domingo announces that he will sing a new baritone role, we hear the same reticences: he does not have an authentic baritone voice, he cannot sing that role as it should be sung, Simon Boccanegra was an exception and that’s it. Then we have the performance and everybody is amazed at how extraordinary it has been. At how touching was Giorgio Germont, how human Rigoletto, how interesting Francesco Foscari. Where will Plácido stop with this adventure? What new role could he sing now?

Last night, Plácido Domingo was Nabucco. This is a role that has belonged to Leo Nucci for a long time, as he is rightly appreciated to be the Verdian baritone above all. Along with Rigoletto, Nabucco is the trademark of the Italian baritone. In a recent interview for Opera Magazine (April 2013), on the occasion of his appearance in Nabucco, that he shares with the legendary tenor, Nucci was asked to comment Domingo’s new project.

Curiously enough, Plácido has been until now doing the same roles I do! As to the technical side of a tenor singing as baritone, the low register isn’t so much a matter of sound, but of the voice’s placement [Nucci uses the Italian term „impostazione”]. Even if he began as a baritone, it cna’t be easy after so many years to move the placement away from its usual position. This is not criticism, God forbid! I have listened to Plácido’s recent recordings of baritone repertoire, and there is no question that we are talking about a very great artist. But coming back to Verdi’s ideas of the parola scenic, I do find it intriguing that the unequivocal tenorial colour of Plácido’s voice brings – to my ears at least – a certain erotic component into those father-daughter duos that are the heart of Simon Boccanegra and Rigoletto, certainly more so than would be the case with a darker baritone timbre. We will soon meet again for some Rigolettos in Verona, but there he will conduct. Come to think of it, we could exchange roles on alternate performances!

In the performance that we saw last night, from the Royal Opera House, Plácido Domingo was exactly as described by Leo Nucci. He sang the role of a Verdian baritone, with heroic tenor sparkles. For example, at the end of the opera, there is a scene where Nabucco and the choir sing a heroic part (O prodi miei, seguitemi, s’apre alla mente il giorno), and Domingo’s voice had a reverberation so close to his glorious  days as a tenor, that, for a moment, I felt taken back in time, in the days of Il Trovatore. The King Nabucco was declaiming like a Manrico in the fragment with choir after Di quella pira. It is a miracle. A voice that, at the age when many others have ended for a long time their love story with the stage, can still “clean” the place all around, by outshining the partners with this dramatic color that traverses it all through its vastness…

The Royal Opera House proposed Daniele Abbado’s production, also presented at the Teatro alla Scala, at the beginning of this year. The directing idea is simple: a desert, where the Jewish people are wandering, with costumes from the Holocaust times. It may seem surprising, but nobody has never thought of such an image until now, though Va, pensiero and the entire context of the libretto seem to make this association of symbols very logical. One thing is sure: all the people on stage looked very convincingly as from the ‘40s.

Liudmyla Monastyrska was Abigaille, a part as important as the revealed king’s and appreciated as highly difficult, mainly because of the length of the register to be used, but also because of the agility it requires in order to emphasize the ambition, the dose of madness, or the intransigence of the character. Monastyrska made this dramatic role look simple, feasible for everybody. She proved to have almost no vocal constraints. But the ring in the voice, as the British put it, which is so present at Domingo, is exactly what Witalij Kowaljow (Zaccaria) did not have, even though he had a good voice, but with a matt shining and a low register with difficulties. On the other hand, Robert Lloyd proved more authority in the small part of the High Priest of Baal – a part that he made sound convincingly. Mariana Pizzolato and Andrea Carè were correct, but made no special impression. The choir, as we expected, was almost impeccable, maybe a little too cautious when the Va, pensiero moment came. Nicola Luisotti conducted without any problems an orchestra which had no difficulties in playing the score of Verdi’s early opera. No sparkles from the pit this time, but, in fact, these moments are pretty rare, what we see mostly nowadays in opera performances is the balance.

Placido Domingo - Nabucco

Placido Domingo – Nabucco

I simply do not know what Plácido Domingo still has to prove in the baritone repertoire. As far as I am concerned, all reticences have been thrown away for a long time. Now, if he decides to sing another new role, I can hardly wait to hear him. Because I know that, no matter how good were the authentic baritones before him, he will be different, in an inimitable way. All I can do is watch his announcements regarding a new role, what will be next? A Baron Scarpia? I would like a Sharpless, I think this would suit him… Or a Falstaff? Only Plácido could know…

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