[Met Tour] CID:186360

American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tue, November 29, 1960

Review 1:

Review of Max de Schauensee in the Philadelphia Bulletin

Met Opera Scores Triumph With 'Nabucco'

The Metropolitan Opera Association opened its 76th season at the Academy of Music last night with its new production of Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco," the opera that so launched the New York season last month. The house was not sold out, a rare occurrence for a [first] night, but the audience was a big one, nevertheless, and unanimously enthusiastic over an evening that certainly had its share of dramatic and vocal thrills. Talk during the intermission centered on surprise over the cool reception this production had received in New York.

"Nabucco" was Verdi's third opera and the first to set him on the road to fame and a career which was to find its culmination 51 years later in his miraculous "Falstaff." This is early Verdi of 1842 vintage, crude and naïve at times, to be sure, but filled with vitality, a melodious energy and a sense of fundamental truth that is probably the most salient quality in all Verdi's work from beginning to end. The libretto of Temistocole Soiera could easily seem preposterous from today's perspective, but Gunther Rennert's stage direction glowed with a sense of history and importance, which gave immediacy to the flamboyant characters.

Mr. Rennert, one of Europe's most famous and distinguished directors, was making his debut here. His handling of large choral groups, such as the one of the enslaved Hebrews on the banks of the Euphrates, was masterly and extremely moving as well as pictorial. Mr. Rennert's placing of the principals also gave them a meaning and a sense which they otherwise might not have had. In league with the director was the conducting of Thomas Schippers, who gave significance to what was taking place on the stage. Mr. Schippers' work could not have been improved upon. It had leanness of outline, and inspirational quality, elegance and life.

It seemed to me that Theo Otto's costumes were more successful than his sets, which might have been richer in detail and more imaginative and dramatic in atmosphere. However, ancient Babylon and Jerusalem of the Old Testament are not easy to suggest and offer a variety of treatments.

Verdi's score is bursting with melody. There is the famous chorus, "Va pensiero sull'ali dorate"; there is the villainess Abigaille's great and florid scene; there is the wonderful quintet written in canon form, the fine bass aria, "Tu sul labbro dei veggenti" and Nabucco's "Dio di Juda." In other words, this is a singers' opera with opportunities, lavish opportunities, for all concerned.

Rudolf Bing gave us a fine cast. Leonie Rysanek sang the terrifying dramatic roulades of Abigaille, which flash through the house like forked lightning with coruscating brilliance. Miss Rysanek's top notes are really thrilling. She has not the natural chest voice of the Italian dramatic soprano, but she is learning to make effective adjustments in this register. Furthermore, she suggested the proud and ambitious slave who poses as Nabucco's royal daughter. She had a great success last evening.

Cornell MacNeil, in the roles of Nabucco that Leonard Warren was supposed to have sung, started slowly but ended up gloriously. His voice has power and mettle when he so desires and he sings like a serious artist. Mr. MacNeil also demonstrated that he is an intelligent and poised actor. His scenes of madness were effective and he never overstepped the borders of credibility. And this young man can belt out a fine top A-flat when the occasion demands. The third big role is that of the high priest of the Hebrews, Zaccaria. This important bass part was sung by Cesare Siepi with fine style and excellent range. There were times when the voice was not altogether steady but, on the whole, Mr. Siepi sang Zaccaria's three arias like an important artist.

The roles of the lovers, Ismaele and Fenena, are of secondary importance. Eugenio Fernandi was excellent as the converted young prince, but Rosalind Elias did not sing Fenena's arietta particularly well. She has sung better here on other occasions. Bonaldo Giaiotti, a new basso, had ample voice for the measures allotted the high pries of Baal.

The chorus plays an unusually important role in "Nabucco." Rarely has the Metropolitan chorus displayed such consistently beautiful work as it did last night. It contributed much to the success of the evening. As far as the audience was concerned, the evening was a grand success. Was it not Verdi who claimed that the audience is the final arbiter?

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