Metropolitan Opera, New York
Picturehouse Stratford-upon-Avon and nationwide

Va, pensiero: lament for a lost land, newly relevant in 2017 America? Credit: Metropolitan Opera
The Temple of Baal from the Met's production of Nabucco Credit: Metropolitan Opera
Still a power at nearly 76 - Placido Domingo as Nabucco Credit: Metropolitan Opera

It’s almost exactly ten years since New York’s Metropolitan Opera first broadcast a live production to cinemas around the world—as significant in bringing music to wider audiences as the moment Henry Wood took up his baton in 1895 to begin a series of cheap ‘Promenade’ concerts.

What a wonderful, multi-coloured decade it’s been, mixing like Wood the popular and the unfamiliar, from a superb Carmen to a re-invented Prince Igor, a grandiose pack-it-all-in Turandot to a fantastic Lulu and rarities like Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.

By a happy circumstance, this production of Verdi’s first hit also marked Placido Domingo’s 50th principal role at the Met (his sixth as a baritone)—an unprecedented record—and his 350th collaboration with conductor James Levine.

The stamina of the singer, 76 this month, is astonishing. The power seems barely diminished, the subtlety greater than ever. From the moment of Nabucco’s forceful entrance to his descent into madness and eventual redemption, there is a smooth transition that picks up on every nuance.

As at Covent Garden last year, Domingo was again partnered by Liudmyla Monastyrska as the war-like Abigaille, who seems to relish such notoriously difficult roles. Even her most lyrical aria includes a double-octave leap, achieved with grace and agility. Thrilling.

Jamie Barton sang sweetly as Fenena, and Dmitry Belosselskiy was an imperious Zaccaria despite uncertain moments in the very lowest register.

James Levine, in the pit for that first cinema broadcast of The Magic Flute on 30 December 2006, achieved remarkable precision in the orchestra, with wonderful legato alternating with just the right degree of urgency in those martial passages that can so easily be risibly brusque.

Verdi’s early triumph is very much a choral opera, power to the people as it were, for Babylonians as well as Israelites. Here, as in its very first performance in Milan in 1842, its most famous number Va, pensiero was encored.

Then, the repetition about “my country, fair and lost” was an illegal act of defiance against the Austrian authorities who had banned potentially inflammatory encores. Here it seemed intrusive and gratuitous—or two weeks before a new presidency maybe not.

Andreane Neofitou’s costumes seem to have come from a 1950s children’s picture-book Bible, and John Napier’s set is a chunky, monumental affair. There’s no shattered idol of Baal, and not so much as a Monty Don pot plant among the massive slabs of the hanging gardens of Babylon that require physical as well as vocal agility from Monastyrska, rather appropriately attired as Lizard-woman.

The next Met Opera live is Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette on Saturday 21 January.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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