Valued Tradition: Nabucco at the Teatro Massimo Palermo

Verdi – Nabucco

Nabucco – Alberto Gazale
Ismaele –
Vincenzo Costanzo
Zaccaria – Marko Mimica
Abigaille – Irina Moreva
Fenena – Silvia Beltrami
Il Gran Sacerdote – Luciano Roberti
Abdallo – Blagoj Nacoski
Anna – Elisabetta Zizzo

Coro del Teatro Massimo, Orchestra del Teatro Massimo / Francesco Lanzillotta.
Stage director – Andrea Cigni.

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy.  Saturday, October 29th, 2022.

This production of Nabucco, which I saw in Turin back in March 2020 just before the world changed, marks the final show in the 2021 – 22 season at the Teatro Massimo Palermo.  The Massimo was a house that most definitely kept the lights on during the darkest days of the acute phase of the pandemic through streaming, among other things, a terrific Ernani to audiences worldwide.  Tonight was on my second visit to his beautiful house – the first was back in September 2020, where I had the pleasure of being among a lucky few to watch a socially distanced semi-staging of Don Giovanni

Photo: © Franco Lannino

This is a house with a great tradition, an auditorium of sheer pulchritude, and one of the finest acoustics I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.  It’s clear that the tourists are back in town – I heard more German and Castilian spoken around the house than I did Italian or Sicilian.  Yet the clarity of the acoustic did have a downside.  Audience members were permitted to take their seats well into the show, which was incredibly distracting.  The woman across the aisle from me spent the entire evening on her phone, the light equally distracting, and so many quiet moments were punctuated with audience members all around the auditorium receiving text alerts.  A shame because the musical values were so high.

Photo: © Franco Lannino

Andrea Cigni’s staging is of course familiar from Turin.  He takes a very conventional biblical epic view of the drama.  Clearly, a number of stage pictures were popular with audience members who couldn’t resist taking photographs of them.  The costumes still give us Cecil B DeMille epic meets sci-fi, though the bare-chested soldiers wearing harnesses, loincloths, and boots look like they got lost on the way to Babylonian night at the local gentlemen’s establishment.  The personenregie consisted of a considerable amount of standing and delivering to the front.  There were also some unintentionally risible moments, such as when the chorus members got into a brawl with the soldiers who were invading the temple.  The chorus was mostly parked on stage, or moved around as a block.  Although, I’m not sure that having them sway in formation during ‘va, pensiero’ added much to the proceedings.  Unlike in Turin, the impact of the chorus’s big entry was enhanced by having them sing at the front of the stage, filling the auditorium in a burst of sound.  Still, it’s an engaging enough framework for the action, particularly since the musical side of the evening gave much satisfaction. 

Photo: © Franco Lannino

Francesco Lanzillotta led a terrifically sprightly reading of the score, founded on an incisive rhythmic base, carried forward through long melodic lines.  Tempi were ideally swift throughout and there was some stylish use of ornamentation by some of the principals.  The Massimo orchestra responded to him with playing of the highest quality.  The strings gave us an athletic and focused tone, agile to the constant movement of the lines.  The all-important percussion played with striking rhythmic accuracy, and the brass was absolutely reliable all night.  Above all, there was a gratifying sense of hearing forces who live and breathe this music – and understand it implicitly.  This was similarly the case with Salvatore Punturo’s chorus.  They sang with generous warmth and impeccable tuning, the tenors and basses in particular adding a richness of tone to underpin the choral sound.  Yes, there were occasions on which a few overly vibrating sopranos stuck out from the texture, but this was very impressive choral singing. 

Photo: © Franco Lannino

This run was double cast and tonight I saw Alberto Gazale in the title role.  He sang with an implicit understanding of the line and made a genuine attempt to give us those long Verdian phrases.  Alas the support for his baritone isn’t optimally lined up, which meant that he wasn’t always able to sustain the long lines he aimed at, the sound tapering off at the end of long phrases.  This also meant that he didn’t always land on the note he was aiming for.  Vibrations were also somewhat loose.  That said, he sang throughout with dedication and enthusiasm and he capped his ‘o prodi miei’ with a massive high A-flat.

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

An announcement was made of the start of the evening for Irina Moreva’s Abigaille, suffering from an unexpected indisposition.  That didn’t stop Moreva from attacking her music with gusto, revelling in those extreme register leaps and descents.  Her soprano is brassy in tone, a decent size, with a penetrating top.  She turned the corners nicely in ‘salgo già del trono aurato’ compensating for the lack of a genuine trill with some attractive embellishments to the line.  In her closing scene, she also pulled back on the tone and supported some impressively sustained pianissimi on high. 

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

As Zaccaria, Marko Mimica sang with a wonderfully firm and nutty bass, filling the theatre with a focused warmth of tone.  He also gave us some highly stylish use of ornamentation in his numbers, reminding us of this work’s bel canto heritage.  With his impeccable legato, and natural musical instincts, this is a major undertaking by a singer with so much promise, still young for those big bass roles. 

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

In the remainder of the cast, I was pleased to be introduced to Vincenzo Costanzo’s wonderfully authentic Italianate tone as Ismaele.  The voice has a sunny warmth, with an impressively smooth legato.  It isn’t the biggest instrument, but Costanzo clearly has a very bright future in those lighter Verdian tenor roles.  As Fenena, Silvia Beltrami was unfortunately miscast.  Her mezzo has a deliciously full and rich bottom, suggesting her future lies more with Quickly and Ulrica – two roles I would very much like to hear her sing.  The voice also has an intrusive break as she negotiated the passaggio.  Her ‘Oh dischiuso è il firmamento’ displayed an ability to turn the corners, but sadly her high A was missed by quite some distance.  The additional roles reflected the quality one could justifiably expect from a house with such a great tradition. 

Photo: © Rosellina Garbo

There was so much to enjoy in tonight’s Nabucco.  The quality of the orchestral playing, the inspiring choral singing, and a staging that did what it needed to do.  The solo singing also gave satisfaction – particularly in Mimica and Costanzo, while Mureva was always fearless and Gazale sang with generosity.  Yes, I regret to mention that the performance was hampered by some of the behaviour of the audience – the house really does need to take a stronger line against cellphone use in the auditorium.  Also, rather than allowing latecomers to take their seats in the Platea once the show has started, instead they could reserve a box where they can be accommodated without disturbing others.  This is a house with one of the greatest acoustics in the world and getting to hear house forces of this quality here is indeed a privilege.  The Massimo has made this production available for streaming via its website, and for those who wish to watch the alternate cast can do so here.

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