Walker, Concert Opera close season with musical fireworks in dazzling “Nabucco”

Sun Mar 05, 2023 at 1:49 pm
Photo of Washington Concert Opera's "Nabucco"

Alexandra Loutsion and Lester Lynch performed in Washington Concert Opera’s Nabucco Saturday night, conducted by Antony Walker at Lisner Auditorium. Photo: Caitlin Oldham

Many opera companies in the Washington area seem to be focusing on Verdi this season, even though there is no significant anniversary being celebrated. Along with Maryland Lyric Opera’s season of Verdi and Virginia Opera’s La Traviata later this month, Washington Concert Opera concluded its season with its first-ever performance of the composer’s third opera, Nabucco, heard Saturday evening at Lisner Auditorium.

The unusual libretto by Temistocle Solera elides together several episodes from the Old Testament. Nabucco, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, takes Jerusalem and destroys the Temple of Solomon. His army enslaves the Jewish population, holding them in captivity in Babylon. Nabucco is punished by the God of the Hebrews, driven mad until he converts to the Jewish faith and returns Jerusalem to the Israelites, an act of restoration actually carried out by Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler, after he conquered Babylon many years later.

While this early score does not represent Verdi’s best work, it has delights in the hands of a blockbuster cast in the demanding lead roles, which WCO artistic director Antony Walker once again assembled. At the top was the sympathetic Nabucco of baritone Lester Lynch, by turns stentorian in arrogance and poignant in defeated anguish. The role needs this vocal and emotional range to trace the character’s tragic fall, and Lynch delivered with a moving mad scene and a subtle “Dio di Giuda,” after his conversion.

For the character of Abigaille, the daughter of slaves whom Nabucco has adopted as his daughter, Verdi created one of his most punishing roles, first performed by Giuseppina Strepponi, the soprano who came to share the rest of Verdi’s life after the loss of his first wife. Soprano Alexandra Loutsion, who made a fine Tosca at Wolf Trap in 2017, gave a powerhouse rendition of this dramatic role, with extraordinary resonance of chest voice, as well as a searing high C, deployed several times in her Act II showcase.

Having two singers of equal potency in these roles made the Act III duet between Nabucco and Abigaille a highlight of the evening. Loutsion, after so much devastating singing of pointed high notes and bitter vitriol, brought her most serene, polished tone to Abigaille’s final aria, sung from memory and to the touching accompaniment of English horn, harp, and solo cello. This was truly one of the most scintillating WCO debuts in recent memory.

Photo of Washington Concert Opera's "Nabucco"

Peter Volpe (left), Melody Wilson, and Alex Acosta. Photo: Caitlin Oldham

Bass Peter Volpe, admired in recent years at Washington National Opera, returned to WCO for the first time since 1998. His interpretation of Zaccaria, the high priest of the Jews, boiled over with sulfurous rage, down to the last note of the opera, which he held on a forceful high note for what seemed an eternity. At the same time, his bel canto suavity of tone impressed, as in the Act II aria, accompanied by the divisi cello section, led by principal cellist Lori Barnet.

Other debuts were no less noteworthy, including tenor Andres Acosta, who brought a bright clarity and ringing top notes to the role of Ismaele, who betrays his Jewish countrymen for love of Nabucco’s birth daughter, Fenena. Mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson matched him with ardent beauty as Fenena, especially plangent in her Act IV cavatina, where she showed a brilliant control of dynamic subtleties.

Walker conducted with his accustomed easy familiarity with the score, guiding the orchestra so ably as it accompanied the rubato-laden contours of the singers. Strings and woodwinds sounded remarkably unified, bolstered by a full brass section, anchored on three trombones and cimbasso, the latter played by Seth Cook. In a nice twist, the rather large off-stage banda performed their extensive music from the lobby, heard through an open door and coordinated carefully by Walker.

The WCO chorus acquitted itself impeccably in the opera’s most famous piece, “Va, pensiero.” This beloved chorus became an unofficial national anthem for the Italians, who while under Austrian rule identified with the suffering of the Jews longing for their homeland. Delaying the almost mandatory encore of this piece, Walker and his forces performed it again at the end of the evening, inviting the audience to sing along, a gesture offered in solidarity with displaced people around the world.

Next season will feature two more firsts for this adventurous company: Rossini’s Ermione on December 2, 2023, and Puccini’s La Rondine on April 7, 2024. concertopera.org

2 Responses to “Walker, Concert Opera close season with musical fireworks in dazzling “Nabucco””

  1. Posted Mar 07, 2023 at 1:04 pm by Allan Reiter

    Thanks for posting a comprehensive but succinct review, nowhere to be found in the WP. It was a spectacular concert performance in all regards.

    And thanks for the Cimbasso link, which I noticed with amazement and how well it covered the downbeats like a tuba but with far more grace.

  2. Posted Mar 08, 2023 at 7:27 pm by Claritha Fortune-Seed

    I reall enjoyed reading all the acclamations. I am so very proud if my cousin Mr. Lester Lynch, always enjoy his performances.

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