insightful in-depth reviews

7, Jan 2017
photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Nabucco: Levine is back in good form

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, revived at the Metropolitan Opera, January 2017.

The best news about the Met’s revival of Nabucco this season was the vigor of James Levine on the podium. This was especially noticeable in the big-screen HD telecast to movie theaters by Fathom Events. Levine looked energetic and joyful as he conducted. It was gratifying to see the ailing maestro looking so good, and the Fathom telecast showed his beaming face filling the screen.

In recent years Levine appeared awkward, leaning to the right in his wheelchair and having trouble moving his arms. He still suffers from a spinal problem and Parkinson’s, and is in a motorized chair, but medication has been working well.

The orchestra, and the chorus trained by Donald Palumbo, sounded wonderful. As has become the custom at the Met, Verdi’s famous chorus by the Hebrew slaves in Babylonia, Va pensiero, received an encore. It is a cry of despair and of hope that speaks to our generation as it did to Verdi’s.

Placido Domingo sang the title role as he continues to transition from his tenor repertoire into the lower baritone territory. He looks impressive, and he’s a good actor, but his voice just doesn’t have the weight for this role.

When a real baritone hits a high note there’s an excitement caused by the fact that he’s reaching up beyond his normal center. There’s a sense of risk and, hopefully, of achievement. When Domingo hits those notes, on the other hand, the frisson is missing. At the other end, in the lower notes, Domingo lacks the depth and volume of a true baritone.

Still, he acts the character with empathy and sensitivity. After declaring himself a god, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia) is struck mad by Jehovah. He repents and regains his senses at the opera’s end. A highlight of his performance was Domingo’s poignant singing of his Act IV aria “Dio di Giuda.”

Liudmyla Monastyrka played Abigaille, Nabucco’s supposed daughter, with ferocity. She nailed her two-octave jumps and hit the high notes with guns blazing. There’s no subtlety here, but lots of entertainment. Bass Dmitry Belosselskiy was adequate as the high priest Zaccaria.

This played out in front of the massive sets (designed by John Napier for director Elijah Moshinsky) which recall the Biblical visions of Cecil B. DeMille.

Barbara Willis Sweete directed the cinema transmission with her cameras focused on Domingo as much as possible. She also included many shots of the buoyant Levine. She was correct; that’s what audiences want to see.