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Ellen Kent presents a new production of Verdi's biblical opera
New Theatre, Oxford, Fri 17 February 2017

February 20, 2017
Jehovah versus Baal? The horse wins!

The quality of Ellen Kent's operas is a given: they are traditionally set, have exceptionally good solo singing, the gowns are to die for, and there's often a real live horse. Ellen's current production of Verdi's Nabucco doing the rounds is no exception and, if you can catch it, is well worth seeing.

First performed in 1842, Nabucco is a four act opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi, to a libretto based on biblical stories from the books of Daniel and Jeremiah all about the defeat and exile of the Jews by the Babylonian King Nabucco, better known as Nebuchadnezzar. It was immediately successful and established Verdi's reputation.

Nabucco has a romantic and political plot deftly woven around the historical events, although there is, as ever with opera, a fair amount of poetic licence. In a nutshell, Nabucco's two daughters have a romantic interest in the same man and also a power interest in taking over from Nabucco. The conflict really kicks off when Nabucco is temporarily struck mad by lightning. It's also about the superiority of the gods, Jehovah or Baal, or even Nabucco, who eventually thinks of himself as a God.

The principal singers were all strong and gave convincing performances, with particular mentions for Iurie Gisca for his powerful and nuanced playing of Nabucco; Olga Perrier for her superbly commanding portrayal of the wicked sister Abigaille; and the young mezzo-sop Zarui Vardanean, a talent to look out for in the future, who was the other sister, Fenena. There were many splendid arias, from these three in particular.

The orchestra, largely from Moldova, was conducted ably by Vasyl Vasylenko with an exaggerated arm-waving style more akin to communicating with flags. It worked, however, for he avoided the plodding pitfalls of Verdi by keeping it all light and moving sprightly along. There was a great brass section and a couple of brilliant flautists to admire in particular.

The big hit of Nabucco the 'Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves', beloved of Classic FM and often given an encore (but not last night). The chorus was a bit wooden at times and really needed to react more to the amazing events supposedly happening around them. They needed more oomph.

Finally, there was a beautiful horse, a large black stallion called Houdini, who didn't escape our attention, and who made two excellent appearances in the opera, carrying Nabucco in and out of the action. He rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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