Kennet Opera - Nabucco
13th to 15th November 2014.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Slaves to the profession
Kennet Opera: Nabucco, at the Corn Exchange, on Thursday, November 13 and Friday, November 15
Newbury enjoyed a première last week when Kennet Opera, now in its 21st year, performed Verdi's first great success, Nabucco, the first time the opera has been staged in the town. There is much more professional input into the company's productions these days - all to the good since opera is such a difficult, exposed art form - with professionals singing most of the principal roles, and handling music and direction. Nabucco was a fine choice. It combines glorious arias, duets and trios with a seminal role for the chorus, which has fine ensemble pieces and acts as a narrative spur.
The set, a minimal, vibrant-blue 'box' with Middle Eastern architectural features, suggested temple, palace and hanging gardens of Babylon. Very simple additions defined the specific: towers of fruit and .ribboned banners; sets of white steps; a hoisted cluster of symbolic paper lanterns; three beaded hangings marking out the slave Abigail's private space. Direction by Ruth Mariner was thoughtful and decisive; lighting rich and sympathetic; and lush, embellished costumes by Lili Tuttle, in glittering reds and oranges, referenced the cultures of the Jews and Babylonians.
Nabucco was sung with conviction by Chris Jacklin, melding his accurately expressive voice with stagecraft and characterisation, both prerequisites for today's generation of singers. Soprano Demelza Stafford made a welcome return to Kennet Opera as Abigail. She combines an agile, expansive voice with stage confidence and dramatic ability, playing Abigail as a jealous, vindictive vamp: a telling counterpoint to her dying remorse at the end of the opera. Her plangent aria at the beginning of Act 2 was a highlight, as was her duet with Nabucco: he broken and descending into madness, she triumphant.
Tenor Randy Nicol as Ismael was confident vocally and dramatically, and well-teamed with mezzo Caroline Carragher playing Fenena, their voices a lovely blend in their early duet. Bass-baritone Julian Charles Debreuil, a solemn Zachariah, was vocally more secure and comfortable in his lower register; his early trio with Fenena and Abigail was a high point. Jim Petts was a characterful High Priest of Baal, Edwin Trout a faithful Abdullah and Julie van Haperen a sympathetic Anna.
Opera, of course, is as much about music as voice, and the seven-piece orchestra, led by musical director Ben Hamilton, shaped and supported the musical tapestry.
One of the strengths of the production was the contribution of the well-rehearsed chorus (amplified by five singers in the pit). Thoughtfully grouped, they were in fine voice: balanced but with plenty of attack when needed; chained together and gently sad in the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. This song of exile and longing for home has such contemporary resonance, with so many displaced in today's Middle East. Some of the finest moments in the production were the textured ensembles, the chorus singing with real commitment as the soloists' voices soared above and weaved between the layers of sound.