The printed synopsis of Verdi’s Nabucco as staged by Peter Relton for Dorset Opera is unusually imprecise in terms of both period and location: where the libretto stipulates that Part One of the opera takes place inside the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem in 587BC, here it’s merely “a citadel” somewhere, and the invading Babylonian army merely generalised ‘foreign invaders’.
Visually, there are more specific references in Louis Carver’s sets and April Dalton’s costumes: Italian 19th-century Risorgimento patriots and their hated Habsburg rulers – a binary of opponents that certainly lay behind Verdi’s thinking in writing the piece – plus what looks like Queen Victoria on her imperial throne. But the show’s overall dramatic weakness lies in a lack of clarity in relaying a narrative that desperately needs a context.
In other respects, Relton directs effectively: the intimate episodes go well, while his traffic control in the more populous scenes – something vitally important at Dorset Opera, whose chorus is 70-strong – is skilful.
The individual central roles are solid enough. Mark S Doss conveys the volatility (or even flakiness) of the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar. Claire Rutter hurls herself at the manifold vocal difficulties accorded his adopted daughter Abigaille both fearlessly and with success. Andrey Valentiy makes a sonorous, dignified Zaccaria, while Carolyn Dobbin’s Fenena provides a good foil for Rutter’s power-hungry Abigaille and Adriano Graziani fields a generously lyrical Ismaele.
The chorus delivers on a grand scale in its big scenes, but also with breathtaking refinement in the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, while the orchestra maintains energetic engagement under Jeremy Carnall’s lively baton.