Opera returns to the Riviera in November, as Monte-Carlo Opera celebrates the opening of the 2016-17 season with Verdi’s epic drama Nabucco.
Directed by Leo Muscato and conducted by Guiseppe Finzi, Nabucco stars Leo Nucci in the title role, Béatrice Uria-Monzon as Fenena, Anna Pirozzi as Abigaille, Gaston Rivero as Ismaele, and Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria, the High Priest of the Hebrews.
Nabucco was composed by Giuseppe Verdi in 1841, and is regarded as the work which established his reputation as a composer. Verdi himself referred to it as “the opera with which my artistic career really begins”. The Italian libretto, by Temistocle Solera, was based partly on the biblical story of the conquest of the Hebrews by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (or Nabucodonosor in Italian – Nabucco in its shortened form), as catalogued in the books of Jeremiah and Daniel. Solera also based his libretto on an 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue, although it’s believed that he was influenced to a greater degree by Antonio Cortese’s 1836 balletic adaptation of the play. The opera – under its original name, Nabucodonosor – was premiered at La Scala on 9th March 1842.
The opera opens in the year 586 BC, with Nabucco, King of Babylon, and his army at the gates of Jerusalem. It tells of the plight of the Jews who are vanquished and ultimately exiled from their homeland. Against the backdrop of these historical events, both a romantic and a political plot unfold, involving Fenena – Nabucco’s daughter, who had been held hostage by the Hebrews – her jailer, Ismaële, with whom she’s in love, and Abigaille, her supposed half-sister. Abigaille also loves Ismaële, and her jealousy of Fenena is exacerbated when Nabuccu appoints Fenena as regent in his absence, and Abigaille discovers that she’s not Nabucco’s daughter at all, but was sold to him as a slave. The best known chorus of the opera is that of the Hebrew slaves – Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate (Fly, thought, on golden wings) – as they lament their lost fatherland on the banks of the Euphrates River.
Italian baritone Leo Nucci is much sought-after by major conductors who value his competence in performing the big baritone roles. Since making his debut at Spoleto as Rossini’s Figaro in 1967, he reprised this role at La Scala in 1976, the first of a number of leading roles which he would sing in Milan, including several productions marking the centenary of Verdi’s death. Other major opera houses in which he has appeared include the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Wiener Staatsoper, the Metropolitan Opera, and the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Mr Nucci recently sang the title role in Nabucco at Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, and will go on to perform it again at Wiener Staatsoper next spring, around which time he’ll also appear in the title role in Rigoletto at Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata at Teatro Massimo di Palerno and Teatro alla Scala, Milan.
Nabucco’s daughter, Fenena, is sung by French mezzo-soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon, best known for her performances in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen, which she has sung on both national and international stages. She was described in Chronique RTL’s ‘Laissez-vous tenter’ as “one of today’s most beautiful French opera singers …. with her fiery voice of dark gold, an intensity of expression, scorching phrases and a sound projection which gives a dramatic impact and motivates even more her profoundly committed acting”. Ms Uria Monzon has further expanded her French repertoire with roles such as Delilah in Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Massenet’s Cléôpatre, and Dulcinée in Don Quichote. Her Italian repertoire includes the roles of Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Amnéris in his Aïda, and the title role in Puccini’s Tosca. German roles include Prince Orlofsky in Johan Strauss’ Die Fledermaus and Venus in Wagner’s Tannhaüser.
Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi – who sings the role of Abigaille – rose to international fame in her 2013 debut at the Salzburg Festival. Regarded as one of the most exciting dramatic coloratura sopranos of her generation, she was described by Bachtrack as “a true Verdi soprano” with “a gorgeous rich tone”. Ms Pirozzi has recently sung the role of Maddalena di Coigny in San Francisco Opera’s production of Andrea Chénier, and in the current season her performances will include the title role in Bellini’s Norma at Teatro Filarmonico of Verona, Elena in Verdi’s I vespri siciliani at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, and Lady Macbeth at Teatro Massimo, Palermo, and at Teatro Regio in Turin.
Urugyuan-born tenor Gaston Rivero, who appears as Ismaële, made his stage debut on Broadway in 2002 when Baz Luhrmann cast him in his production of Puccini’s La Bohème. He has also sung alongside Placido Domingo and Anna Netrebko in the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Il Trovatore, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Gaston Rivero’s most recent performance was as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for Oper Leipzig. Forthcoming performances include Ismaële in Nabucco and Don Jose in Carmen for Oper Leipzig, a role which he will sing for Sugi Opera Seoul and Sugi Opera Busan in South Korea as well. He will also appear in a New Year’s Eve Gala presentation of Carmen with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in Poland.
Swiss-Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow sings the role of Zaccaria, High Priest of the Hebrews. In 1999 he won the Culture Arte Prize at the Operalia competition, founded by Plácido Domingo. This was followed in 2010 by an appearance as Wotan in Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Los Angeles Opera, conducted by James Conlon, and in Wagner’s Die Walküre at La Scala, Milan, in a performance conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The more than forty roles in Vitalij Kowaljow’s repertoire include Padre Guardino in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Banquo in Verdi’s Macbeth with Dutch National Opera, and Don Alfonso in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with San Francisco Opera.
Leo Muscato is an Italian director and playwright who won the ANCT Prize – the Press Award for Best Theatre Director – at the VolterraTeatro Festival in 2007, and in 2013 the ABBIATI Prize – the Press Award for Best Opera Director. His opera productions include Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci for Teatro Ponchielli in Cremona, Puccini’s La Bohème for Macerata Opera Festival, Nabucco for Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, Verdi’s Rigoletto for Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera for Malmõ Opera.
Conductor Giuseppe Finzi, a former fellow at the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala, worked alongside Riccardo Muti and some of the most important names on the international scene during his time as a member of the Accademia’s music staff. He made his debut in 2003 with Puccini’s Tosca at the Teatro Rendano-Cosenza, following this with productions which included La Traviata, L’Elisir d’amore, Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto, Carmen and Così fan tutte – the latter with the soloists and orchestra of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala at the Piccolo Teatro-Milano. From 2011 to 2015 he was Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Opera where he led more than 70 performances, adding Aïda, Turandot, Entführung aus dem Serail, Faust, La Fanciulla del West and Tosca to his repertoire, as well as new productions of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème and symphonic concerts.
In this forthcoming production of Nabucco, Maestro Finzi leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of the Monte-Carlo Opera, the director of which is Stefane Visconti. Performances take place in the Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum from 13th to 19th November. Reservations can be made online.
Nabucco is a production of Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, and was first performed by Monte Carlo Opera in January 2002.
Salle des Princes
10, avenue Princesse Grave
Tel: + 377 99 99 20 00
Lead image Nabucco © Maquette décor par Tiziano Santi, courtesy Opéra de Monte-Carlo