Jean-Paul Scarpitta’s 2011 staging of Nabucco, now revived in Naples, confirmed itself gloomy and dreary, a production almost as minimal as an oratorio, considering the scarce scenery and stage movement – a directorial low profile where even the lightning that takes off Nabucco's crown was missing. On a bare stage, lacking three-dimensional depth, with dark backgrounds on which a big misty moon was stamped, it was left to the chorus to act as elements of the scenery, as they grouped and moved (very slowly) within a set otherwise flat and empty, apart from a small pyramid in the middle. The whole thing was only made a little more imposing by the fine touches added by Maurizio Millenoti's costumes and Urs Schönebaum’s lighting.

Giovanni Meoni (Nabucco)
© Luciano Romano

Leaving objections about the staging aside, the performance was quite satisfactory, as far as the music is concerned. Giovanni Meoni's Nabucco had a pleasant sound, yet his ringing tone lacked the painful, heroic tinge the role requires; he has a more than respectable baritone, though, which is at its best with fine phrasing and emission.

Anna Pirozzi tackled one of most demanding soprano parts of the entire lyric repertoire with good results. Pirozzi may not have shown the same warm colour as she recently did as Lady Macbeth in Parma, yet she maintained her vocal agility and rendered a dramatically vigorous Abigaille.

Anna Pirozzi (Abigaille)
© Luciano Romano

The other members of the cast were quite effective: as Fenena, Romanian mezzo-soprano Carmen Topciu revealed a fine mezzo-soprano with some depth and colour, showing presence and personality. Antonello Palombi with his Italianate tenor and poised singing line was well suited to the role of lsmaele.

The best performance of the evening, however, was Rafał Siwek’s Zaccaria, the Hebrew high priest, a role providing the bass with rich opportunities to excel. Siwek had the required sound and presence to turn him into an impressively realistic biblical prophet, with a strong voice with an even timbre through all his registers. 

Rafał Siwek (Zaccaria) and Chorus
© Luciano Romano

Conductor Francesco Ivan Ciampa, making his San Carlo debut, assertively showed definite views on the opera from the very beginning. In the overture, where the whole drama is displayed, he avoided the orchestral clangour which occurs in most performances. He led the orchestra and chorus outstandingly, offering an insightful interpretation, without any paroxysmal outbursts; on the contrary, he seemed to prefer the most melodious traits of the score, and to make sure that he could control the orchestral accompaniment in favour of the singers on stage.

The San Carlo orchestra responded with precision, and the chorus, truly one of the protagonists in Nabucco, sang with a well-ordered, compact sound. Their rendition of the familiar Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves at the end of Part IV, “Va, pensiero”, offered out as much aching nostalgia in the house as everyone was prone to feel.  At the end, it goes without saying, the audience did not have to insist too much for it being awarded an encore.