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Versatile singer leads Nabucco cast with performance of highest artistry

Updated: 2013-05-24 10:29
By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily)

Versatile singer leads Nabucco cast with performance of highest artistry

Placido Domingo plays the title role of Nabucco at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts. Provided to China Daily

Review | Raymond Zhou

Placido Domingo has graced the Chinese stage a few times before. But May 22 marked his debut in a fully costumed production in the Middle Kingdom. (He has previously appeared in a concert version of Verdi's Rigoletto.) People held high expectations, but still Domingo surpassed them - with flying colors.

The title role of Nabucco, Verdi's third opera, fits the versatile star perfectly. It lies comfortably within his vocal range, which has glided lower with age. There is not a hint of strain. The voice is sonorous yet rich with expressiveness.

What's truly surprising is Domingo's total commitment to the dramatic side of the job. He not only sings the part with conviction, but fully embodies it physically. Nabucco's brief lapse into dementia and eventual regaining of sanity are portrayed with such humanity that Domingo brings out the pathos of the Babylonian king better than many baritones who specialize in the repertory.

This is not a superstar engaging in a vanity project or an over-the-hill singer trying to grasp the last straw of his once illustrious career. It is a performance of the highest artistry.

At 72, Domingo has broadened his repertory to include Verdi's baritone roles and imbued them with a combination of passion and maturity.

With a career spanning more than half a century, he keeps going and delivering live and recorded performances to a constantly surprised and always appreciative audience. The one at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts would not leave until he took another solo bow.

Another debut that also swept the stage like a force of nature - on the same night - belonged to Chinese bass Liang Li, who plays the role of Zaccaria. Li held his own in scenes of confrontation with Nabucco and his booming voice rang with authority. Active in Germany, Li, whose original Chinese name is Li Xiaoliang, should consider coming back more often to his home country, where his name has been spreading fast among opera fans.

The daunting role of Abigaille is played by Sun Xiuwei, who has the stamina and the high notes but is sometimes not audible in the lower range and tends to ignore the coloratura style in an otherwise dramatic soprano role.

The mezzo role of Fenena is taken up by Yang Guang, who should probably seek out Verdi's later mezzo parts for her wonderful voice. Both Sun and Yang, coincidentally, have been winners in Operalia, Domingo's opera competition for discovering young talents.

Not only is a high standard achieved uniformly by solo singers, but the NCPA chorus displays a level of excellence that we have come to take for granted. The famous choral piece Va Pensiero is delivered with hushed sorrow. The orchestra under the baton of Eugene Kohn infuses the music with clarity and texture, which remind the audience of the greatness yet to come in Verdi's ensuing works. You get a glimpse of the seeds that would not blossom until Macbeth or Aida.

The NCPA production, directed by Gilbert Deflo, is grand without being messy or overly ornate. Everything seems designed to support the singers.

There is not much crowd movement, nor any effort to attain realism. No mid-scene set changes take place to wow the audience, and backdrop projection is used sparingly and to good effect. Both Ezio Frigerio's set design and Franca Squarciapino's costume design, while not minimalist, are classy and not ostentatious by NCPA standards.

Which means much of the audience's attention would go to the singers. When they shine, as with this stellar cast, nothing else matters. Nabucco runs till May 26, with rotating casts in the principal roles. Placido Domingo is set to make the second of his two appearances on May 24.

Versatile singer leads Nabucco cast with performance of highest artistry

Versatile singer leads Nabucco cast with performance of highest artistry

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