Nabucco, Welsh National Opera, review: 'A stupendous chorus and excellent cast'

See opera that shot Verdi to fame at Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre

Nabucco is the opera that shot Verdi to fame and begat his status as a folk hero.

Its biblical pitching of Babylonians against Hebrews just vindicates Welsh National Opera’s faith banner for this new production by director Rudolf Frey, but the real drama lies in the personal rather than the religious or political.

Historical settings are jettisoned for a bare, drab modern day, avoiding Middle East references beyond Nabucco’s Gaddafi-esque uniform and Ismaele’s kippah and tzitzit. Two cults lock horns: one garish with false glittery tat, the other freakish with ritualistic gestures, yet supposedly truer and, ultimately, victorious.

A stupendous chorus and excellent cast were the real winners. Together they soared above dowdiness and kitsch to render entirely plausible the agonies of love, jealousy and confused loyalties, supported with admirable pace and panache by conductor Xian Zhang’s WNO Orchestra.

Justina Gringyte and Robyn Lyn Evans were well-matched lovers in Fenena and Ismaele, whilst David Kempster eventually found depth as Nabucco. Kevin Short’s Zaccaria had great vocal and dramatic presence, but Mary Elizabeth Williams stole the show as Abigaillie, inhabiting with relish every clear, sensuous note. The staging will upset purists, but it’s a fabulous night at the opera.

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