Verdi’s opera Nabucco does not crave attention. It commands it. It is all about power: the power to oppress, to resist, to forgive.
Against a series of spectacular sets and theatrical tableaux, the story of the great Babylonian King, Nabucco, and his oppression of the Hebrew nation moves in giant strides. From his magnificent pagan entrance by slave-drawn chariot into the Hebrews’ Holy of Holies, the Temple of Solomon, his power seems to mount, unstoppable.
Having destroyed the temple and taken the Hebrews hostage, it is in the next sumptuous scene at Nabucco’s Babylonian Palace that fates are sealed and Gods are invoked to do battle: the Hebrew God vs Baal. Yet Nabucco trumps them both, declares himself God – and is struck down by a thunderbolt for his effrontery. Sacrilege goes too far.
Amid a series of subplots, treachery, jealousy, love and loyalty are played out by a strong cast and sparkling orchestra conducted by Nicolae Dohotaru, who carry Verdi’s vision along at a sweeping pace, the choral singing and intimate chamber passages equally confidently handled.
Petru Racovita’s Nabucco never failed to command authority – yet when he was brought low by insanity, and the cruel treatment of his aspiring slave daughter, Abigaille (superb Olga Busuioc), he evoked deep pathos too.
Callas found the role of Abigaille one of the most challenging of her career. Busuioc has 22 performances to give on this tour. Her vocal range is astonishing, and her scintillating solos were one of the thrills of this production.
Ismaele (Sorin Lupu) and Febena (XZarui Vardanean) were delightful lovers while Eugen Ganea’s High Priest gave a performance which explored the heart of the opera’s spirituality – never failing to inspire faith.
Deep love of country was something Verdi understood. At the first performance at La Scala in Milan on March 9 1842, the Italians were smouldering resentfully under Austrian oppression. The Hebrew Slaves' anthem, nostalgic and heartfelt, can still evoke huge crowd participation, as seen in the 25,000 capacity arena in Verona, when reprises are called for repeatedly.
Nabucco was Ellen Kent’s first production, and she has returned to it as the latest step in a hugely successful career. The opera's power to evoke primal human feelings of freedom, faith and nationhood is unsurpassed.