Let's be clear about this; we're only back for Plácido. Nothing has changed in Daniele Abbado's indifferently received staging of Verdi's Nabucco save the tenant of the title role, so for a rounded consideration of the production's merits my colleague Simon Thomas's review (see below) still holds good.
The Royal Opera has traded one septuagenarian (Leo Nucci, who sang at the run's early performances) for another. Plácido Domingo, who seems to have acknowledged once and for all that anno domini has called time on his life as a tenor, here undertakes yet another Verdi baritone title role (after Simon Boccanegra and Rigoletto, among others), and his inspiring presence lifts the evening to a high level. The vocal range may have grown narrower but his lyric powers are undiminished, and in embracing this whole new field of repertoire he has turned necessity into a virtue. Who knows how many unsung heroes still lie ahead? On this showing they are a prospect to relish.
Abbado's production is tailor-made for the jetset soloist: it's so characterless that all any drop-in singer need do is amble downstage, stand (or occasionally kneel) and deliver. That would hardly have been a stretch for the world's greatest opera star so instead, predictably enough, Domingo went for the jugular. His supplicatory singing when Nabucco pleads for his daughter's life (‘Oh di qual onta aggravasi questo mio crin canuto') transcended both the moment and the mobile phone ringtone that tried to ruin it.
Those celebrated tenor hues are still detectable, but the mid-range richness that has always burnished his wonderful lyric register now takes centre stage. Consummate artist that he is, the tyro baritone even incorporated his own incipient late-evening vocal fatigue (as well as a few moments of hesitancy as he grappled with a new role) into characterising a spent Nabucco vowing to convert to Judaism.
Musically, this performance was streets ahead of the first night experience. The Royal Opera Chorus was as imposing as before (the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, ‘Va pensiero', is one of the evening's few effective pieces of staging), and Marianna Pizzolato as Nabucco's daughter Fenena was every bit as impressive on second hearing; but Liudmyla Monastyrska's formidably-sung interpretation of the anti-heroine Abigaille has grown immeasurably in subtlety and dramatic coloration, while Nicola Luisotti's conducting was nowhere near as over-emphatic as it had been previously: indeed he brought so much pliancy and dramatic interest to his conducting of the magnificent ROH Orchestra that the sounds from the pit almost compensated for the deficient stage ideas of Abbado fils.
This new Nabucco remains a dismal evening for the eye, then, but the ear is ravished - and the addition of a fourth star reflects that and that alone. Holders of restricted view tickets should rejoice: they've bought themselves a bargain.
- Mark Valencia