Monday, December 13, 2010

Opera review: Splendid second cast shines in PB Opera's 'Nabucco'

Adam Diegel and Laura Vlasak Nolen in Nabucco.
(Photo by Palm Beach Opera)

By Rex Hearn

The‭ “‬A‭”‬ cast may have sung‭ ‬Nabucco‭ ‬on Friday night for Palm Beach Opera,‭ ‬but on Saturday night I heard the alpha cast.

The company alternates its principals in two casts for each of its full productions and the Saturday lineup featured five incredible voices,‭ “‬B‭”‬ cast or no.

Giuseppe Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬third opera,‭ ‬Nabucco,‭ ‬began‭ ‬the Romantic period in operatic composition.‭ ‬It nearly didn‭’‬t get written.‭ ‬His two previous operas,‭ ‬Oberto and‭ ‬Un Giorno di Regno,‭ ‬were failures at the box office.‭

Verdi was about to give up,‭ ‬but‭ ‬Bartolomeo‭ ‬Merelli,‭ ‬the impresario of La Scala in Milan,‭ ‬thrust a new libretto by‭ ‬Temistocle‭ ‬Solera into the hands of the unsuspecting Verdi.‭ ‬Its biblical grandeur and pathos moved the composer deeply,‭ ‬and by the autumn of‭ ‬1841‭ he’‬d written the music.

And what beautiful music it is.‭ ‬Not regularly performed here,‭ ‬American audiences are not as familiar with it as our European cousins.‭ ‬As a boy of‭ ‬8,‭ ‬I listened to‭ ‬the‭ ‬Fodens Motor Works Brass Band in England belt out the famous overture and‭ ‬I loved it.‭ ‬The‭ ‬Welsh National Opera chose to do it in their inaugural season and created quite a stir with‭ ‬an unknown bass-baritone named Bryn Terfel.

After this brilliant production by Palm Beach Opera,‭ ‬let‭’‬s trust it won‭’‬t be neglected by‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬opera companies.‭

Sebastian Catana.

‬A massive ovation greeted the orchestra after its energetic rendition of the overture Saturday night.‭ ‬Conductor‭ ‬Bruno Aprea was in his element,‭ ‬directing with gusto and very much in charge of this successful evening.‭

Following this auspicious start,‭ ‬the Ukrainian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy,‭ ‬singing Zaccaria,‭ ‬the high priest of Solomon‭’‬s temple,‭ ‬urges the Hebrews to fight bravely against the Babylonians:‭ ‬he‭’‬s got King Nabucco‭’‬s daughter,‭ ‬Fenena,‭ ‬held hostage as his ace in hand.‭ ‬Throughout the evening‭ ‬Belosselskiy‭’‬s rich flexible voice went along like a river in full‭ ‬flood with strong rounded tones,‭ ‬taking all ears in its wake.‭ ‬What a fine instrument he has.‭

American tenor Adam Diegel sang Ismaele,‭ ‬who falls in love with Fenena and converts her to Judaism.‭ ‬Here again was a strong,‭ ‬heroic,‭ ‬powerful tenor‭; ‬it‭’‬s a shame Verdi didn‭’‬t write more for Ismaele to sing.‭ ‬Diegel‭’‬s lyric sound is a delight‭ ‬to hear.

‭ ‬Texas native Laura Vlasak Nolen as Fenena gave a finely judged performance as the pawn between two warring factions.‭ ‬Her highly placed mezzo-soprano is incredibly beautiful,‭ ‬with a distinct timbre,‭ ‬powerful at times,‭ ‬but most delicate and touching in her last-act aria.‭

Romanian baritone Sebastian Catana as King Nabucco was splendid.‭ ‬He paced himself well,‭ ‬has a lot of singing to do,‭ ‬and kept the strength of his lovely voice even until Act IV, giving it more punch at the end of the opera.

Csilla Boross.

The Hungarian dramatic soprano Csilla Boross,‭ ‬as Abigaille,‭ ‬the usurping sister of Fenena‭’‬s hereditary crown,‭ ‬gave a performance that revived memories of an early Maria Callas.‭ ‬Her body language,‭ ‬her fine singing and the deep meaning she got into her role were distinctive,‭ ‬and so Callas-like.‭ ‬Whoever chose these five principals selected singers with incredible voices.

‭ ‬Harold Wilson sang the high priest of Baal very well‭;‬ his mellifluous bass was lovely to hear.‭ ‬In comprimario roles,‭ ‬two Palm Beach Opera Young Artists shone brightly.‭ ‬Evanivaldo Correa‭’‬s tenor showed much promise as Abdallo,‭ ‬and he has great stage presence.‭ ‬And soprano Alison Bates‭ ‬as Anna‭ ‬has a powerful voice that soared over the chorus on occasion,‭ ‬to thrilling effect.‭

‬And the chorus‭! ‬This well-drilled body of‭ ‬45‭ ‬singers acted and sang wonderfully well in their many calls to support the principals of this opera.‭ ‬Of course the highlight was‭ ‬Va,‭ ‬pensiero,‭ ‬when the Israelites sing longingly of their homeland.‭ ‬It had light and shade,‭ ‬tenderness and pathos,‭ ‬quality ensemble singing‭ ‬that should be‭ ‬the envy of other choruses hereabouts.‭ ‬The audience was‭ ‬slow to‭ ‬applaud,‭ ‬cautious not to break the spell of its beauty.‭ ‬To Greg Ritchey,‭ ‬chorus master and now assistant conductor,‭ ‬much praise.‭ ‬And kudos to the choristers.

‭ ‬To Guy Montavon,‭ ‬praise also for directing this difficult work.‭ ‬I‭’‬d wish for some spotlights on‭ ‬the principals,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬and more wearing of the elusive crown of Babylon at times.

Finally,‭ ‬this opera orchestra seems to get better and better.‭ ‬They are attentive to detail,‭ ‬and all the players are best at what they do.‭ ‬Under‭ ‬Aprea they will take center‭ ‬stage in Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Requiem on Jan.‭ ‬16.‭ ‬Not to be missed.

Rex Hearn has covered opera in South Florida for more than a decade.‭ ‬He was founder of the Berkshire Opera Company in Massachusetts.

Nabucco‭ ‬will be performed at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬West Palm Beach,‭ ‬with Sebastian‭ ‬Catana as Nabucco and Csilla Boross as Abigaille.‭ ‬Tickets start at‭ ‬$23.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ (‬opera box office‭) ‬or‭ ‬832-7469‭ (‬Kravis box office‭); ‬or visit‭ ‬ or‭ ‬

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