Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Having a Baal

February 21, 2010

Richard Paul Fink as Nabucco
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Diego Opera 2010

Watching the dreadfully directed production of Verdi's Nabucco, which opened on Saturday in San Diego, makes one yearn for thrills and excitement of the New Testament. Lotfi Mansouri may have done a lot for opera over his long career, but the static and almost inert staging he's thrust upon this cast and their audience made me identify a little too much with the Jews held captive in Babylon - I too lamented to God about longing to be free (of this production) and back in my homeland. I did admire Mansouri's attempt at period authenticity by calling for acting maneuvers common in the Old Testament. There were modern touches here and there, though, like the Babylonian soldier's red stormtrooper costumes and wigs circa the Don Knotts era of Three's Company.

Actually, Michael Yeargen's set design, on loan from Lyric Opera of Chicago, wasn't half bad using a minimal blue room with three large sliding archways and video projections for scenery at the rear. It was certainly colorful at times switching easily from bright to dark. Of course, when you have a minimal set and give your cast nothing to do during their time on stage other than sing, the vocal qualities are paramount. And there were at least two performances worth hearing. Nabucco was sung by American baritone Richard Paul Fink who replaced the originally announced Željko Lučić. (Lučić is the second major star to back out of a San Diego production this year at the last minute following Anja Harteros who bailed on Mimi in January.) Fink had a much brighter and warmer tone than I've remembered from prior outings but that may be because I so closely associate him with the music of Wagner. He was consistently good throughout and it was great to hear him in a big Italian role. Not to worry though, he'll be back in Los Angeles throughout the spring as Alberich both in Götterdämmerung and throughout the Ring cycles there in June. I was also fond of Raymond Aceto's Zaccaria who was commanding and clear. Sadly these men greatly outperformed virtually everyone else in the cast who ranged from serviceable to painful. Sylvie Valayre sang Abigaille with some agility but not much beauty and there were many pesky tempo problems.

But Nabucco is an opera of choruses more than anything else and the chorus did sound fairly good throughout. Oddly, the Va Pensiero in Act III, perhaps the most famous piece of music in the entire opera, was not the strongest number of the evening but it wasn't horrible. The orchestra under Edoardo Müller exerted a significant amount of control, although they could have played out a bit more at times. They were certainly deferential to the soloists. So there are some things to recommend this current revival, but admittedly one has to wade through quite a lot to get there.



Lotfi has done plenty for opera but he's not an interesting or even very good director. Too little insight, too many people backed up against walls.

Fink: most-improved singer of the last 15 years??

The first time I heard Fink, in the mid-90s, he was an absolutely godawful Escamillo in SF. Then he was a decent Kurwenal at the Met in '99, and a great Alberich in Seattle in '01. I've liked him in everything since, glad to hear that he is coming into his own in Italian roles.
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