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Nabucco unfazed

New National Theatre
06/18/1998 -  and 20, 21, 23, 24, 25* June 1998
Giuseppe Verdi : Nabucco
Paolo Gavanelli (Nabucco), Paata Burchuladze (Zaccaria), Lauren Flanigan (Abigaille), Taro Ichihara (Ismaele), Naomi Nagata (Fenena), Kazuhiko Ichikawa (Abdallo) Sachio Yamada (High Priest of Baal)
The Japan Shinsei Symphony Orchestra, New National Theater Chorus & Fujiwara Opera Chorus Group, Anton Guadagno (conductor), Antonello Madau Diaz (stage director) Bernardo Trumper (set designer). Presented by the New National Theatre and the Japan Opera Foundation

It would be hard to imagine a less-worried collection of Israelites than those in the Antonello Madau Diaz production. The conflict between the murderous Assyrians and the enslaved Jews was presented as a pageant, before prettified archaeological sculptures (ex British Museum?) and free-standing pillars, enhanced by 'state-of-the-art' NNTT special effects (multi-coloured smoke and whirling spotlights etc.).

Nabucco entered the temple of Jerusalem on a high golden chariot in the midst of an unflustered chorus of Jewish priests and maidens etc. At the end of the first act, when Nabucco orders them all to be put to the sword, there was an aesthetic tableau suggesting the possibility of violence after the curtain fall. . . . and so it went on.

Anton Guadagno's conducting matched the production: warm, comfortable, relaxed, unhurried, but with little tension or bite. Suggestions of violence, fear or anguish in the score were minimalized - exactly those things that were emphasized by Muti when I heard him conduct it.

Paolo Gavanelli (Nabucco) justified the evening. He has a beautiful baritone, good phrasing and considerable power. I don't know much about him. He apparently comes from Padua and made his debut in the mid 80s. He sang Nabucco in Verona in 1996. Compared to Bruson (the only other Nabucco I have heard live) he had less authority but more elegance. By coincidence, a friend called me from Europe last week and told me he had just heard an impressive new baritone sing Amonasro in Verona on Sunday 28th; Paolo Gavanelli again!

Lauren Flanagan was a disappointment. Underpowered, not unmusical, not unpleasant but the voice seems wrong for Abigaille. She has a swagger on stage that is oddly out of scale with the voice. Unfortunately for her, Japanese audiences know exactly who they would like to hear in this role: Maria Guleghina. She has often sung here, including a Leonora (Trovatore) with the same group.

Taro Ichihara sang a fine, elegant and spirited Ismaele. He is consistently the best of the local singers. Paata Burchuladze kept his voice until control and maintained the dignity of his role (Zaccaria) - with difficulty, but eventual success! I heard him sing the role 10 years ago with La Scala - probably happier days for him!


This was a co-production of the New National Theatre, Tokyo [NNTT] and the Japan Opera Foundation (which administers the Fujiwara Opera and a Japanese opera group): one of three possible permutations at the NNTT: the others being NNTT (solo) and the NNTT with the Nikikai Opera. What this spells is factionalism, so characteristic of Japanese organizations, from political parties and government ministries to commercial and artistic companies. What this means is no national opera company for the foreseeable future.

The director, conductor, backstage staff and most of the singers have worked with the Japan Opera Foundation/Fujiwara Opera many times before, so Nabucco was effectively their show.


This was the first performance I have heard at the New National Theatre. The acoustics seem excellent. It resembles a traditional European house, though the orchestra stalls/seats at the bottom are quite steeply raked. It is not particularly large: 1814 seats. Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (which is now being renovated), and also has good acoustics, has 2303 seats and NHK Hall, the usual location for grander opera, has 3677 seats. It seems unlikely that the New National Theatre will be used by the major foreign visiting companies. It will be Tokyo's Colisseum/NYCO, not Tokyo's Covent Garden/Met.

Simon Holledge



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