Plácido Domingo in 'Nabucco'
Plácido Domingo in 'Nabucco'

The arrival of Plácido Domingo in the cast has crowned the Royal Opera’s new Nabucco with a welcome aura of celebrity. However well sung and conducted it has been from the outset, Daniele Abbado’s new production is a grey and lifeless affair that could do with a kick start – even if Domingo in his advanced years is hard pushed to find the energy that he had of old.

A senior citizen of the operatic stage has to pick his roles carefully. Having made the transition from tenor to baritone, Domingo has been working his way through Verdi’s operas, finding sympathetic roles in the troubled father figures of Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra, and now the still more tortured and elderly Nabucco, the biblical Nebuchadnezzar, which he was singing for the first time on Monday.

Here was a masterclass in how to command the stage with diminished resources. It hardly mattered that he stumbled round the cluttered stage, or that he sometimes seemed more in thrall to the prompter than the Old Testament zealots in the drama, or even that his voice has lost much of its former power. Domingo exudes grandeur and authority, taking command of the role in just the way that his predecessor in this production failed to do. He sings it less as a fully fledged Verdi baritone than as his old tenor self without the top notes. His voice was always forged from bronze in its middle range and so it is here – a proud, molten, glowing sound, astonishing for a singer in his 70s.

Although Abbado’s listless production lacks any sense of fire and brimstone, the conductor, Nicola Luisotti, and especially the Abigaille, Liudmyla Monastyrska, do all they can to set the performance alight. Musical standards are decent all round. Marianna Pizzolato brings mezzo singing with an Italianate sheen to Fenena and Andrea Caré, also Italian, is a strong, sometimes hard-voiced Ismaele. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Zaccaria is stirring as long as one does not think how a bass such as Christoff or Ghiaurov might have sounded in the role. Monastyrska’s blazing Abigaille apart, this was Domingo’s night. After a lifetime of frantic, non-stop achievement, where is there left for him to go?

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