I had never been to an opera before. I had never indulged in operatic music (apart from the one time I went to see Phantom of the Opera). I had never been to watch a piece of work on stage that was in another language, so I was both keen and privileged to see the single-night performance of Ellen Kent’s Verdi’s Nabucco.
My first impression when walking into the auditorium was that I was the only person with hair that was not balding or grey. I felt not only out of place, but as if what I was about to watch was going to be completely out of my depth. Nabucco is the most traditional of the kind being a Verdi opera, so I felt lucky that my first experience was going to be following true form.
Wanting a fresh perspective with no preconceptions about the show, I made the decision not to look up the plot prior to attending. This was perhaps a foolish decision as I do not understand a single word of Italian, and constantly had to look to the subtitles for support, which became quite jarring. Not only was it high up and so it was not an easy task to divide my focus between the screen and the stage, but also the translations were inconsistent and lagged behind the words being sung, which made the narrative difficult to follow.
What I did gather from the plot, however, was this: King of Babylon, Nabucco, is using his power to attack and vandalise the city of Jerusalem. In retaliation, the Hebrews take hostage of his daughter, Fenena. Later on, Ismaele, the nephew of the King of Jerusalem, is left alone with Fenena, who are love-struck with one another.
Their meeting is interrupted by Abaigaille, Fenena’s half-sister and she too is in love with Ismaele. Out of jealousy she informs him that she can save his people if he will choose her, but he refuses. Foreseeing a future in which Fenena and Ismaele will rule together over Babylon, she swears revenge on Nabucco and Fenena.
Following a story of vengeance and love amidst a war, it is a constantly busy stage that will not leave the audience bored.
As someone who studies and enjoys theatre, I was not impressed by the melodramatics of the show. However, aesthetically the set design was beautiful. Bearing in mind the company are known for one-night shows, the extent to which they transformed the stage by constructing a large temple that was multi-functional for different acts was highly impressive.
Considering the cast are a touring company who perform on a nightly basis, their voices were of a strength and quality that cannot go unappreciated. Olga Perrier, who plays Abaigaille, is the play’s main villain and her soprano voice reached the auditorium with richness. All of the casts’ voices showed talent, but it was hers that I was most impressed with every time she came on stage. Verdi’s melodies were wonderful to listen to throughout and the opening performance was a pleasure to listen to, even if I did not fully understand what they were saying.
Although I left feeling a little confused and taken-aback at the traditional three-part performance with two intervals, which I was not used to, I enjoyed the spectacle and could not fault the vocal ability of anyone on stage, although their acting was not much to reckon with due to it being over-dramatic and sensationalised, which would have worked if it was not half-hearted and contrived. Overall, however, I can say that my first night at the Opera was a true treat.