A Double-Take On The MN Opera's 'Nabucco'

Bradley Machov and Emily Cornell headed to the MN Opera’s blogger preview for Nabucco which opened Saturday night at The Ordway. Verdi’s monumental opera follows the plight of the Jews as they are conquered and exiled from their homeland by King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco).

Emily: So, since you’re an opera newb, what did you think?

Bradley: I thought it was great! I’ve been YouTubing Les Miserables songs, like, nonstop for the last three months so the pump had kinda been primed, so to speak, but I really enjoyed it. What about you? As an opera vet?
Emily: Wait, point of order – Les Mis is a musical, Nabucco is opera. There is actually a difference.
Bradley: Well, yeah. I’m not saying they’re the same, but I feel like Les Miserables prepares you for an opera more than, say, Spamalot.
Emily: Truth. And, I’m not sure that I’d call myself an opera vet, but I’ve seen a few. I’d put this one at the top of the list.
Bradley: What about it puts it at the top?
Emily: Interesting plot, lots of big, big music and the costumes/set design were awesome.
Bradley: I’m with you on everything so far. Let’s start with the plot. I liked it. It had one. I could follow along. I feel like that’s a knock on opera sometimes. Plot can take a backseat.

Zaccaria, inspiring the Hebrews.

Emily: This one was particularly interesting to me because the story takes some pretty creative departures from history. In addition to the whole ‘bad king destroys the temple’ storyline, there was a love story and some serious family turmoil in there too.
Bradley: Yeah, a bit of a mafia element.
Emily: All the trappings of a telenovela without that guilt that you’re losing brain cells. Because it’s opera. Hey! Did your brain keep wanting them to sing in Hebrew too? Even though the plot is a very, very creative interpretation of the story of Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of The Temple, I kept waiting for it to switch over from Italian. Maybe it’s just because we’re coming off Rosh HaShanah services…
Bradley: I wasn’t too bugged by that, to be honest. But a nice Shema or Shehechiyanu to close things out would’ve been nice.
Emily: I think it was the shofar sighting on stage when we first met the Israelite chorus – I kept expecting an avinu malkeinu or perhaps at least a little shofar blast. I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed that we never got a good tekiah.
Bradley: Yeah, definitely a shofar blast. I mentioned Chekhov’s gun to you at the show. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but it’s a term coined by Anton Chekhov for dramas (or any story really). That if you introduce a gun in the first act, it better go off by the third.
Emily: Well, they missed that memo. I won’t take too many points off though. The (very large) chorus was pretty busy.
Bradley: True. That was really impressive – just the sheer number of people they were able to get on that stage.
Emily: Didn’t Maestro Michael Christie say it was pretty much as big a chorus as would fit on stage and that they packed the orchestra pit about as full as it could be? I still wasn’t expecting so. much. sound. And I completely forgot to play “where’s Waldo?” – did you know that Josh Kowitz, our own Jenna Zark‘s son, is in the chorus?
Bradley: I did! But I don’t know him, so I couldn’t have picked him out anyway.
Emily:  So, the music…what you expected?
Bradley: Yeah. I mean… opera. Not to say I didn’t like it. It was excellent! The guy who played Zaccaria; I’d hire him for my Kol Nidre. Koooooooool Nidreeeeeeeee in that deep baritone? (or Bass, maybe? Opera newb here.) Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be awesome.
Emily: John Relyea is a bass, and that could be a seriously awesome kol nidre. The other principals were amazing too, no?
Bradley: Absolutely.
Emily: And what about that set design?
Bradley: Yeah, let’s talk about that for a quick minute. That was my favorite part.
Emily:  Me too! Although I feel like we’re outing ourselves as less than aficionados by admitting that. Oh well.
Bradley: The fake, painted curtain in particular looked like it came straight out of an El Greco painting.
Emily: Right? And as one who gets bored easily, I was super excited to see such an opulent set. There was always something new to see onstage.
Bradley: Michael Christie talked about how they used 19th century Italian painting and dying techniques to make the sets and the costumes. And it definitely paid off.
Emily: I heard somebody describe at it as a “riot of color.” I’d have to agree.
Bradley: Yeah, perfect description. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such penetrating colors before. They really hit me and just, you know, infected my bones.

The costumes! Bold, colorful.

Emily: I’d wear a few of the outfits Fenena and Abigaille were wearing.
Bradley: I want to be part of the Galactic Senate Interpretive Dance Team.
Emily: O.M.G. I think you mean the whirling dervish team playing the part of Nabucco’s high priests?
Bradley: Oh yeah.
Emily: Riddle me this – how did they manage to keep singing while doing sun salutations/tai chi? I can’t even get inhale/exhale right on a chaturanga.
Bradley: Haha, that’s why they’re the professionals.

The production nods to the opera’s 1842 premier at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.

Emily: Seriously. Speaking of dancing – what did you think about the nod to Nabucco‘s history? The parts meant to invoke the original production at Italy’s La Scala opera house?
Bradley:Yeah, I have some opinions on that. I think they had too much of it. Like, “Oh, there were political things happening back when this was written, let’s include that stuff.” I have more, but what did you think?
Emily:  Hmmm…I disagree. I thought it added a layer of interest to the show – I don’t know that I would have thought something missing without the touches (like the opera boxes with Austrian soldiers standing watch over the Italians), but it was interesting to see that interpretation. I think it helped me better understand Nabucco as a political statement.
Bradley: Yeah, I’ll give you that it was interesting, but hear me out…So at the end, with the encore of “Va Pensiero.” That was an allusion to the myth that Italian audiences, when this show first opened, demanded an encore of that song. And encores were expressly forbidden by their Austrian overlords. So performing an encore of “the song of the oppressed” would’ve been a huge statement. But! Well, first, who outlaws encores?? Second, that whole story is a myth. It’s not true. I’m nowhere near an opera buff and I was able to learn that in a 2 minute wikipedia search. Yet they played it up, brought out a giant Italian flag and everything, and it just seemed weird to me. Why are we getting all serious about Italian nationalism at a Minnesota opera?
Emily: Hmmm…I don’t know that I was thinking so much about Italian nationalism so much as wanting to sing along – after all, the captions above stage switched from English to Italian. I was expecting them to get everybody to join in. Clearly I was missing the bigger picture by that point.
Bradley: I would’ve thought the same way, except for the two Italian flags on the stage. It definitely wasn’t just a happy, let’s sing our favorite song, encore.
Emily: Fair enough. I don’t think it detracted from the production though, do you?
Bradley: No, again, I thought it was great. That’s just a small nitpick. And I definitely think most people would enjoy Nabucco.
Emily: I could definitely see the opera geeks loving it. What about first-timers? I think this opera is pretty approachable, don’t you?
Bradley: Absolutely. Opera, ballet, and professional wrestling. Three art forms under-appreciated by the masses.
Emily: Yeah, somehow I don’t see professional wrestling happening at The Ordway anytime soon…
Bradley: Well, a boy can dream…

Minnesota Opera starts it’s 50th season with Nabucco, with shows September 22, 25, 27, 29 and 30. For more info and tickets, visit MNOpera.org
TC Jewfolk is offering an awesome 20% discount for the Thursday, Sept 27 (7:30pm); Saturday, Sept 29 (7:30pm) and Sunday Sept 30 (2pm) performances. Limit up to 2 seats regularly priced $50-$120. To score tickets at the discounted price, go online: Enter tcj20 and click “Add Coupon”. You will see your savings applied. Do not complete order if coupon does not load. Service charges and other restrictions may apply. Offer ends September 30, 2012. For additional information call the Ticket Office at 612-333-6669, M-F, 9am-6pm.

*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received free tickets to “Nabucco” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a glowing review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…