Met’s tired “Nabucco” revival shows flashes of inspiration from supporting cast

Tue Dec 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm
Liudmyla Monastryska and Plácido Domingo in Verdi's "Nabucco" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

Liudmyla Monastryska and Plácido Domingo in Verdi’s “Nabucco” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

An alignment of stars at the Metropolitan Opera can produce memorable evenings, bringing together extraordinary performers on to a single stage. When the stars in question have faded somewhat, called into service more for the box-office potential of their names than for their current abilities, the results are often not so splendid.

Ironically, Plácido Domingo, the superstar in large part responsible for filling the house for Monday’s season premiere of Nabucco went largely unacknowledged at his first appearance, so well had the wig department done its work. His performance as the Babylonian king of the title, alas, was mixed, at best.

While there is admittedly a slight thrill at seeing one of the twentieth century’s greatest tenors stride back onto the Met’s stage as a baritone, the satisfaction of nostalgia only lasts so far. Whatever gravitas his physical presence may import, Domingo can no longer command authority with his voice alone. His singing is effortful and sounds tired; while that weariness lent a certain pathos to his Act IV aria “Dio di Giuda” (in which the humbled, despairing Nebuchadnezzar proclaims his faith in the Abrahamic God), it was hard to take seriously Act II’s stunning declaration, “Non son più re,” the great hubristic moment of self-deification, with Domingo running short of breath.

As for the other major draw on the evening’s playbill, James Levine’s evening in the pit followed the same basic pattern as many of his recent outings. Flashes of greatness, such as the majestic opening of the overture, competed with long stretches that showed little of the richness of detail that long characterized his finest work. Lapses of ensemble, though mostly minor, were not infrequent.

The vocal star was Liudmyla Monastyrska in the role of Abigaille, the fierce usurper who conspires to seize her father’s throne. Her voice, on its face, does not sound like the world’s most subtle or supple instrument; she has such vocal weight that it’s astonishing to hear her navigate the role’s fioritura as accurately as she does. Though her primary mode is an intense blaze, crackling at the bottom and bordering on shrillness at the top, she was able to rein in her voice in more intimate moments, such as her glowing pleas for forgiveness in the opera’s final bars.

Dmitry Belosselskiy is fast becoming a reliable option for rich-voiced avatars of power. On Monday he crafted a sage, nuanced portrayal of the high priest Zaccaria, bringing a flowing, lyrical bass of color and depth to the role. As Nabucco’s virtuous daughter Fenena, Jamie Barton did not soar with such ease as she usually does, but was affecting and sensitive in her prayer on the threshold of martyrdom in Act IV. Russell Thomas was in fine voice as her lover Ismaele, finding a noble bearing and singing with robust, caramel tone.

Making his company debut on Monday night, Sava Vemić, a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, strutted proudly as the High Priest of Baal, showing a firm, if somewhat breathy, bass. Danielle Talamantes was endearing as Zaccaria’s sister Anna, while company stalwart Eduardo Valdes brought his usual poise to the role of Abdallo.

Nabucco is certainly not the only Verdi opera to give the chorus a starring role, though it features perhaps the most memorable highlights. The peerless Met choristers, of course, were up to the task, sounding by turns triumphant, forceful, desperate, and tender. The celebrated “Va, pensiero” chorus glowed, tinged softly with quiet grief, earning its customary encore.

Elijah Moshinsky’s 2001 production, with its grandly idealized sets designed by John Napier, impresses with its ability to evince awe without evoking specificity of time or place–though that generality often becomes a lack of focus. In particular, the costumes by Andreane Neofitou, in their attempts to avoid strict adherence to any one historical era, instead lashed out at many, touching styles from Biblical Israelites to eighteenth-century European peasantry.

Maybe Domingo does still have something to offer as a performer—indeed, he will reprise his most successful role from the past several years, Germont père, in a revival of La Traviata later this season. But continued outings like this one, in roles so clearly unsuited to his voice, only serve as evidence for the suggestions that Domingo’s ongoing baritonal renaissance is an unfortunate exercise in vanity.

Nabucco runs through January 7 at the Metropolitan Opera. A second cast starring Željko Lučić, Tatiana Melnychenko, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, and Adam Diegel performs on December 27. Lučić also sings the title role on December 30.

4 Responses to “Met’s tired “Nabucco” revival shows flashes of inspiration from supporting cast”

  1. Posted Dec 31, 2016 at 10:31 pm by CastaDiva

    I salute you for your comments on Domingo and Levine, comments that many cannot bring themselves to make. Yes, they have both thrilled us for decades, but now it is time for them to leave the stage.

    I went to the Dec. 30 performance when the wonderful Zeljko Lucic sang. His mellow, warm sound is in the tradition of the great Italian baritones such as Cappucilli and Bruson. He is surely the go to baritone for Verdi operas. I enjoy listening to him.

    Barton, with her molten mezzo, sounded marvelous— as she always does—-as Fenena. I was sorry she had just that one great aria towards the opera’s end. (I do wish the Met would give her a starring role, e.g., in Donizetti’s Favorita, in which she would be splendid).

    Monastyrska sang impressively, although she sometimes had trouble holding her high notes, ending the phrase abruptly; but her final aria was superbly sung.

    Re. Domingo, wanted to mention that when I was at the box office and opted for a date when Lucic was scheduled to sing, the agent alerted me to the fact that Domingo was not singing at that performance; and when I assured him that I was aware of that and specially wanted to hear Lucic, the man was nonplussed. Clearly, the Domingo name is still an audience draw.

  2. Posted Jan 12, 2017 at 4:02 pm by Richard Kessler

    I walked out of this performance. It was a painful spectacle of bad singing. Domingo needs to retire. Levine is still heroic in the pit. Liudmyla Monastyrska shrieks her high notes which only approximate the correct pitch. She has a potentially lovely Verdi pianissimo. Regrettably, she still needs to learn how to use properly the gift God has given her.

    Dmitry Belosselskiy lacks the vocal equipment needed for a large house like the Met. His lower register notes are anemic and undersized. His upper register notes crack and quiver. In between, there is not much to talk about.

    Jaimie Barten proved the exception. Her well modulated, lush voice was pure pleasure. She deserved to be surrounded by a far better cast of soloists. The saving grace of the performance was the chorus.

  3. Posted Jan 14, 2017 at 12:18 pm by José de Moura

    Great analysis elegant style – the best review

  4. Posted Jan 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm by Richard Self

    That’s an overly critical review for this listener, who caught the matinee. I thought Domingo nailed the title role in the strong baritone it calls for. There was power and vocal agility throughout. And the humiliated tenderness called for in the final act was beautifully sung. Yep, he is 75, but this was a strong and well-pitched Domingo.

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