Jan. 4th, 2017

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Nabucco by Verdi at the Met

Special night, utterly special night. James Levine back conducting (as Music Director Emeritus), Placido Domingo as Nabucco (in recent years he's made a transition from the tenor repertory to less demanding baritone roles, and that's the only version of Domingo I've been able to see, but in spite of his diminished vocal capability and diminished athleticism, he still has It Factor and emotional range that's unlike almost everyone else you see on that stage.)

I wasn't previously familiar with the opera or its plot, except that of course I'm well familiar with the Biblical narrative of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, upon which Nabucco is sometimes loosely and sometimes tightly based. It was a pretty glorious show, though. Verdi's usually pretty reliable that way.

The lovers (starcrossed Babylonian princess Fenena and Israelite prince Ismaele) were pretty perfunctory, though Verdi's music was well-suited. The highlight of the narrative was the rise and fall of Nabucco's other daughter, the ruthlessly ambitious Abigaille, who actually sings things like "Your wedding bed will be your tomb" to her sister, and "I will ascend to the throne on a path of blood" in reference to her father. It was disturbingly sexy. She sings a duet with Domingo as they cross paths (her ascent, his fall) that is so complex, so emotionally resonant, so striking that it was THE highlight of the opera, even though Nabucco is an opera people go to to see the chorus "Va, Pensiero".

"Va, Pensiero" was pretty great, though. A gentle chorus of Israelite longing for return to their native land, loosely paraphrased from the Biblical psalm Al Naharot Bavel, it was adopted by the Italian nationalist movement as an anthem (though historians apparently disagree about whether this adoption took place during the Risorgimento or retrospectively after the unification of Italy). I have zero Italian patriotism but plenty of Zionism, and it worked just fine in its native guise as a Zionist anthem. Actually, the weirdest thing about Nabucco was how non-anti-semitic it was. I'm really... not used to seeing that in opera.


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