Concert review: Nabucco with the Auckland Philharmonia

By William Dart

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Helen Medlyn performs in Verdi's Nabucco. Photo / Richard Robinson
Helen Medlyn performs in Verdi's Nabucco. Photo / Richard Robinson

We have waited 170 years for a professional performance of Verdi's Nabucco. Little wonder then that Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's presentation of the opera saw full house signs out on Queen Street.

This was a project close to Music Director Eckehard Stier's heart. After two years with Strauss and Wagner taking the annual Westpac Opera slot, it was time for an Italian.

As the overture romped from trombone solemnity to a frisky march a la Rossini, it was clear why this opera made its young composer's name.

Immediately, we were given our first taste of those great choruses that are so much part of the work's appeal. The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus was in glorious voice, stopping hearts, later on, in the stirring Va, pensiero.

When Turkish bass Burak Bilgili entered, a vocally resplendent Zaccaria in full heroic mode, we were caught in Verdi's spell.

For a concert presentation, the characters were remarkably vivid. Alejandro Roy was a forthright Ismaele; beside him Helen Medlyn an intensely human Fenena.

Together they are brilliant foils for Paoletta Marrocu's Abigail, despatching villainry via fearless coloratura, complete with a death-defying two-ocatve leap from a top C. Throughout, there was the utter confidence that reveals the authority of experience.

Sebastian Catana as Nabucco came up with the most finely shaded performance of the evening, culminating in his eloquent Fourth Act prayer.

Again, we benefitted from another singer familiar with the role on the opera stages of Europe - the American baritone is Nabucco for Stuttgart Opera next year.

Smaller roles were gracefully taken by locals, Anna Leese and Ben Makisi, although Grant
Dickson's quavering High Priest of Baal was a liability.

Above all, the evening was a testament to Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra,
navigating Verdi's music with unflagging energy while giving due care and attention to the more delicately scored passages such as the cello accompaniment to Zaccaria's prayer.

With all the nervousness engendered by the current government's orchestral review,
the APO proves yet again that they can present first-rate artistry to a community that values and appreciates it.

What: Nabucco, with the Auckland Philharmonia
Where: Auckland Town Hall

- NZ Herald

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