Nabucco, Leipzig Opera

Every composer anniversary brings with it the danger of overkill. By the end of 2013, will celebrations for Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday leave the world over-sated with his music?

Leipzig Opera’s Nabucco proved a hugely encouraging start for the Verdi year. If every company approaches standard repertoire in such a solid yet fresh way, we are in for a deeply satisfying 12 months.

Director Dietrich Hilsdorf and his team have taken a new look at Nebucadnezar’s pagan derailment. This meticulously-made production places the piece firmly in its context; in every scene we feel the currents that were surging through Italian society in the mid-19th century, and the role that theatre played for citizens in daily life.

Dieter Richter’s beautiful set is inspired by the boulevard theatres of Paris at the time, where the ballet and play that inspired Verdi’s librettist were born. Through this crumbling, half-improvised theatre, crowds of revolutionaries (Israelites) and their militaristic oppressors (Babylonians) ebb and flow. Hilsdorf’s handiwork is impeccable. We feel each figure’s history and passion; the chorus is magicked on and off in the blink of an eye. Nabucco’s descent into madness is plausible, Ismaele’s desperation palpable, Abigaille’s drive for vengeance formidable. And Fenena really dies, resurrected in a profoundly unsettling coup de théâtre borrowed from the original ballet.

In the title role, Markus Marquardt delivers a performance of conviction and charisma; Arutjun Kotchinian struggles more with the role of Zaccaria. Amarilli Nizza’s Abigaille is commanding, athletic, and only sometimes a little shrill; Jean Broekhuizen is moving as Fenena; and Gaston Rivero’s Ismaele is effortlessly heroic.

The Gewandhausorchester delivers playing of warmth, substance and musicality. Anthony Bramall’s direction has more force than elegance, and often lacks subtlety, but he holds his forces well together and drives the action inexorably forwards.

If every new Verdi production were this imaginative and finely crafted, we would be in for a wonderful 2013.

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