Nabucco review – Plácido Domingo injects star quality into drab production

Royal Opera House, London
The tenor-turned-baritone returns as Verdi’s Babylonian king in a musically strong but bloodless staging

As in 2013, Daniele Abbado’s staging of Nabucco is a drab, bloodless vehicle for the return of tenor-turned-baritone Plácido Domingo, who shares the title role this time with Dimitri Platanias. Which of the people on stage are the Babylonian oppressors, and which the Jewish oppressed? Shouldn’t we care? If it weren’t for the quality of the singing, and for the way the orchestra gets its teeth into the score under Maurizio Benini’s energetic baton, this would be a dispiriting evening indeed.

Liudmyla Monastyrska, returning as Abigaille, is certainly no actor, but at times her voice is a genuinely thrilling instrument, all gleaming power and cutting edge. She holds her nerve when singing softly, trusting, rightly, that Benini will keep the orchestra down. Jamie Barton is a first-rate Fenena, Jean-François Borras shines in the brief tenor role of Ismaele, and as the rabbi Zaccaria John Relyea rallies the people we assume are his followers persuasively.

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille in Nabucco at Royal Opera House, London
Gleaming power … Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille in Nabucco. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore

The prompt box, which disrupts the angles of Alison Chitty’s set downstage, was turned to by Domingo at least once, and the most obvious memory lapse rather took the edge off King Nabucco’s self-deification a few lines later. His voice, however “wrong” it might be for the role, retains its burnished quality and easy heft, and his star quality is unimpeachable. Is there a hint that after a six-decade career his onstage presence might finally be beginning to diminish? Maybe, but he has dates in the diary for the next year and more, including a major new Verdi role, so don’t count on him slowing down.

• In rep at the Royal Opera House, London, until 30 June. Buy tickets from the Guardian Box Office. Live on BP Big Screens on 9 June.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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