Nabucco thrills Beijing audience

China daily

The famous chorus "Va pensiero" neverberated inside Poly Theatre thrilling the audiences in Beijing for the first time, as the Teatr Wielki National Opera of Warsaw performed "Nabucco" of Verdi (1813-1901) three nights last week.

Debut in Milan in 1842, "Nabucco" is Guiseppe Verdi's third, but his first successful opera. With this work, based on the Bible and historical fact pertaining to the Babylonian captivity Verdi established himself as one of the leading composer in Italy. The opera was such a huge success, not just because of the music but because the composer vividly gave expression to his countymen's aspirations of liberty and self-government, which had never yet been theirs.

It tells of Babilonian captivity of the Hebrews and of King Nabucco's madness, recovery and conversion to the fate of the Jewish God Jehovah. Besides, the love and the hate between Ismaele, who is a nephew of the King of Jerusalem and Nabucco's two doughters are interwined in the story.

Nabucco (also known Nebuchadnezzar), King of Babylonia, conquers Jerusalem, bringing the Hebrews back to Babylon. But when Nabucco proclaims himself a God, he is struck down a thunderbolt. Abigaille, his older daughter, spurned by Ismaele (who loves her sister Fenena) and seriously irriated by the discovery that she is not Nabucco's daughter but that of a slave, then takes control, ordering the death of the Hebrews, along with that of Fenena. Finally, Nabucco prays for divine assistance and, in doing so, realizes the Hebrews "prophecy, as Babylon begins to fall".

Encompassing love and war, and opression and freedom, it's an epic tale in which the moving chorus Va pensiero sung by the Hebrew slaves to express their longing for homeland, has become a true symbol of the libery. The famous chorus became an overnight success not only because of the accompanied monadic style typical of solo arias, but also for itss deep lyricism, its dramaturgical relevance and its powerful expression of inner feelings. With this chorus, Verdi definitely scaled the success of the new Italian operatic choral style. In 1901, it was also sung spontaneously by the 2000 mourners at Verdi's funeral.

The performance in the Poly Theatre last Wednesday was magnificant, awash with resonant references. Jacek Kasprzyk, artistic director of the National Opera of Warsaw, conducted the orchestra perfectly. The uverture, lasting aproximately 8 minutes, began opera in style, and won the first round of thunderous applause. The chorus of the opera theatre was pretty wounderful, deservedly singing the famous aria, which is considered an alternativ to the Italian national anthem. This version of "Va pensiero" was more a lamentation in bitter submission of the Jewish people than a chorus. The audiences spared no effort to applaud and "encore" was shouted here and there. The principal performers are all talented and skillful. "Their voices are powerful", said Li Cheng, a local critic, after the show. "It is really a difficult task to sing a powerful aria after a lyric aria without a gasp."

Nabucco was powerfully performed by baritone Zbigniew Macias. A baritone should fully embody the true nature of manhood with youth and naturity, strengh and possessiveness, and courage and determination - which Macias proved the part. It is a symbol of both the virtues and voices of the male characters: romantic and mystical Dutchman of Richard Wagner's opera; the cold and unscrupulous Baron Scarpia in Puccini's "Tosca;" the tiumphant matador of Bizet's Carmen, and the King Nabucco. It is best incarnated in and exemplified by Macias, eith the great magnitude and variety of stage characters created by him. His strong and sonorous voice of a superb timbre is a wonderful tool he uses for the construction of suggestive male characters, either noble and courageous, or - if that is what the opera demands - despicable and loathsome. Since 1992, Macias has been a soloist at the National Opera House, taking the leading parts in a varied repertoire, beginning with Mozart's works, through to Italian opera masters (Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and Mascagni), as well as the most difficult and ambitious performances of Wagner's Parsifal (Amfortas) and R. Strauss' Salome (Johannan).

There were many other fine performances. Bass Romuald Tesarowicz was superb as Zaccaria, the High Priest of Israel, especially in prayer accompanied by a solo cello. And Remi Garin was a fine Ismaele. Russia-born Polish soprano Mlada Khoudle performed Abigaille, who is properly described as a role suitable for a dramatic coloratura. The part is that of an evil woman, and the madder she became the better she was.

"Nabucco" is the only full-longth opera staged during the 2001 Beijing Musical Festival, which runs until November 8. "We chose it not only to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Verdi's death but particulary for the splendid chorus. Such a spectacular drama, with such an impressive chorus, is really a feast for audiences at home and abroad," said Yu Lung, artistic director of the festival. "The Teatr Wielki National Opera of Warsaw is great. I have a wish that Chinese audiences get to know more about the theatres from eastern Europe." For more that 160 years, the Teatr Wielki (Grand Theatre), known today as Teatr Wielki National Opera of Warsaw, has been the grandest opera and ballet theatre in Poland. Wang Xinna, former tenor with China Central Opera Theatre, said: "We used to have few contacts with the theatres from eastern Europe, so the thrilling performance is a little unexpected to me. "They carry the tradition of the classic opera very well which is seldom seen today."

by Chen Jie.

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