Verdi - Nabucco

[In concert]

La Monnaie (Cirque Royal), Brussels, Saturday April 30 2011

Conductor: Julian Reynolds. Nabucco: Carlo Guelfi. Ismaele: Zoran Todorovich. Zaccaria: Carlo Colombara. Abigaille: Marianne Cornetti. Fenena: Catherine Keen. Il Gran Sacerdote: Kurt Gysen. Abdallo: Xavier Rouillon. Anna: Olga Kindler. Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie.

La Monnaie no doubt had its reasons for scheduling Nabucco in concert, not staged; I haven’t taken the time to see if they were stated anywhere. But I don’t think it was a wise decision. Nabucco is far from being Verdi’s greatest work, whatever political resonance and advertising fame that dreary chorus may have acquired (OK, shoot me down in flames). Performing it in concert exposes the score and the singers and removes the support and distraction of the on-stage drama a work like this needs. I suspect, therefore, that last Saturday’s cast would have come across better in sets and costumes.

Checking back, I see we’ve had several of the soloists at La Monnaie before; and I quite like, sometimes, to check my impressions for consistency.. .

Marianne Cornetti I’d seen in Aïda, and asked “Should it have been called ‘Amneris’? [...] Marianne Cornetti’s round, powerful mezzo stood head and shoulders above her principal colleagues.” (The colleagues included Michèle Crider.) That was true on Saturday night as well. She is vocally perhaps more solid than subtle, moves lumberingly and isn’t a born actress (and left to her own devices in concert she had the most startling orange and yellow hair); but if well directed in a decent production (any chance of that at the Met? She’ll be in it, with Colombara, later this year) I reckon she might score a real hit. She has both power and agility, and good top notes.

Zoran Todorovich: “His upper middle in particular,” I wrote about a performance of La Forza del destino, "was very good, but overall in Verdi I hope for a more seductive timbre from the tenor and, yes, all of his top notes - all of them - were so flat that even my elderly neighbour, when she was awake, noticed.” Nothing to add to that. The word “braying” did come to mind, and not only to mine – but only at the top, I should in all fairness stress.

Carlo Colombara is someone I’ve heard in Verdi three times and was always impressed. On Saturday night he may have been ill; he seemed to tire quickly and soon - though at times, in his comfort zone, he recalled even Ghiaurov - the top notes were weak, snatched-at and close to Sprechgesang. I hope this is a passing thing and that he’ll be back on form for New York later this year. (not that I'll fly to NYC specially for a Nabucco).

Catherine Keen was Alisa in Lucia in the same Cirque Royal a couple of years back, but she didn’t make a huge impression on me, apparently, as she was, I’m afraid, confined to: “And the rest were as faultless as needed for the little they have to do.” In concert, she was underpowered compared to her colleagues and a little wobbly; she did however come out with one or two strong high notes.

Guelfi, who I have not seen at least since I started recording such things, grew on me. At first his voice sounded elderly and short-winded. But the “wounded bear” sound that somehow brought to mind Jon Vickers in his latter years suited the part, and Guelfi’s experience showed in his phrasing.

In the programme notes, conductor Julian Reynolds said how much he admired Verdi’s directness and spareness/lack of superfluities. He certainly set up a ripping pace in the overture and conducted in a very dry, matter-of-fact way; by the end I was finding it almost brutal, though I prefer Verdi fairly plain and swift and the approach suits La Monnaie’s orchestra.

All in all, it was a very decent stab, but I still think doing it in concert was a mistake: the work can’t stand alone like that, and arouse and retain your interest all evening.

Dinner at Belga Queen afterwards was better than I expected in such designer surroundings. The Gevrey Chambertin was excellent.

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