This is Verdi´s bicentenary year, and Buenos Aires Lírica had the good idea of reviving "Nabucco", the opera that launched Verdi´s great career. The circumstances that led to this composition are recounted minutely in Claudio Ratier´s welcome programme notes and worth synthesizing here.
Verdi came from peasant roots in Busseto, near Parma. His first opera, "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio", was premiered at Milan´s La Scala in 1839, when he was 26, with reasonable welcome from the public. The impresario Bartolomeo Merelli offered him a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, "Il proscritto", but Verdi didn´t like it and there was a strange situation: the German composer Otto Nicolai accepted it and gave Verdi a libretto in exchange; it was "Nabucco" (then called "Nabucodonossor") by Temistocle Solera.
On the other hand, between "Oberto " and "Nabucco" came a comic opera and a family tragedy. Verdi´s children Virginia Maria and Icilio Romano died in 1838 and 1839, and the following year his wife Margherita was victim to a rheumatic fever. Verdi was alone and desperate, hardly the conditions to write a "buffo" opera. But the contract with Merelli forced him to write "Un giorno di regno", final appellation of "Il finto Stanislao", a libretto by Felice Romani. A bad cast led to a fiasco at the premiere.
As the belated premiere in Buenos Aires demonstrated last year, "Un giorno di regno" is by no means negligible; in fact I found it charming and very agreeable, although as yet more Donizettian than Verdian. By the way, this year it was repeated by a group led (like in 2012) by Dante Ranieri. Also, I want to mention that I was very sorry when the announced revival of "Oberto..." was scrapped. It would have allowed the splendid opportunity of seeing the three initial Verdi operas in the same season.
Not surprisingly, the combined family circumstances and the "Giorno..." disaster made the composer fall into a deep depression. However, Merelli believed in him and insisted; for five months, he couldn´t breach the anguished gap in Verdi´s soul, but finally the creative impulse took over and in three more months the work was finished. The opera had an immense success when premiered on March 9, 1842, at La Scala and was the true start of Verdi´s almost incredible trajectory.
It is the only opera of his where the big hit isn´t an aria but a chorus, of course "Va pensiero"; it became the symbol of another oppression borne with resignation: that of the Italians by the Austrians. The libretto is based on "Nabuchodonosor", a French drama by Auguste Anicet-Borgeois and Francis Cornu, premiered in 1836. It adds many basic things to the Biblical narration about Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, who in 587-586 B.C. had destroyed Jerusalem´s Temple; especially Nabucco´s blasphemy, his madness after being struck by divine lightning and his conversion after recuperating sanity.
Verdi´s writing still has some rough spots and his orchestration is at times a bit crude, but there´s a lot to deeply admire: the Overture, Abigaille´s great scene, the High Priest Zaccaria´s prayer, the marvellous Trio, the big "concertanti", Nabucco´s aria "Dio di Giuda"...and of course "Va pensiero", a truly great Verdian melody. The ending appears dramatically contrived, however, and the really valuable music finds its limit at that famous chorus.
In the interval after the first two acts I was quite happy: a traditional production by Marcelo Perusso, good work from the Choir (Juan Casasbellas) and the Orchestra (Javier Logioia Orbe) and an impressive cast, with an astonishing Mónica Ferracani and a splendid job by Hernán Iturralde (Zaccaria). But when the time came for "Va pensiero", I was quite disappointed, for Perusso broke his production´s line from then on. Unfortunately he added projections of Twentieth-Century sorry events concerning Jewish persecution by the Fascists and other irrelevant matters, following the unfortunate trend that pretends we are not intelligent enough to appreciate a story if it isn´t transported to our time. To boot, the white garments were shed and the choir was left wearing contemporary black clothes. And wrongly they encored the choir, in imitation of Riccardo Muti; but he had done it as a protest against Berlusconi for neglecting the funding of arts; here the public didn´t join although leaflets with the text were inserted in the programme. Later on, the production worsened when in the final scenes Nabucco appeared in a vaguely Garibaldian costume and the soldiers looked no less vaguely like Arab partisans.
As Perusso was also the author of the stage and costume designs, I must add that until "Va pensiero" the costumes were reasonably accurate, and although the stage designs weren´t visually attractive they at least were adequate for the action (I disliked his final Act, however). A definite plus was his work with the choir, avoiding excessive stasis or an oratorical feeling. The lighting by Marcelo Conde was correct, except when lightning struck.
Ferracani was astonishing in one of the most difficult roles in all Verdi, her register full and true, the ornaments all in place. Iturralde, looking like a rabbinical Karl Marx, sang beautifully, with honest emission of an even voice of fine quality. Santiago Bürgi was an involved Ismaele; his voice has expanded a lot lately. Pleasant work from the others: María Luisa Merino (Fenena), Walter Schwarz (High Priest of Baal), Laura Polverini (Anna) and Darío Leoncini (Abdallo).For Buenos Aires Herald