World of Music
By Barbara Wright-Pryor, Chicago Crusader
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera ‘Nabucco’ opened Saturday, January 23 before a huge audience, many of whom had waited patiently for nearly twenty years for it to return to mainstage of the hallowed Civic Opera House, and at the close of the four-act, nearly three hour production, rose to its collective feet to give extended thunderous applause and shouts of bravo, brava, bravi to the high profile cast.
Serbian baritone Željko Lucic is the tyrannical title-role Babylonian king and Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan and American mezzo and Ryan Center alumna Elizabeth De-Shong are his daughters Abigaille and Fenena, respectively. Add to that mix Russian tenor Sergey Skorokhodov (debut) as Ismaele, the Judean ambassador; Russian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy (debut) as Zaccaria, the fiery Hebrew prophet; and American bass Stefan Szkafarowsky (Ryan Center alum) portraying the High Priest of the Babylonians; and Michael Black’s stellar chorus, “Nabucco” is off and running, with an international cast, intrigue, excitement and glorious Verdian arias, ensembles and choruses packed into every moment.
“We have a real Rolls-Royce cast,” said Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director. “Nabucco is exceptionally hard to cast these days, and our principal singers are sensational. Chicago audiences thrilled to Željko (Lucicć) in our Rigoletto and Tatiana (Serjan) and Dmitry (Belosselskiy) in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) Macbeth, and of course Tatiana also made a huge impression in last season’s “Tosca.” He added that “it’s wonderful to have Elizabeth De-Shong back at Lyric – she’s a Lyric Ryan Opera Center alumna and a terrific Fenena. Sergey Skorokhodov debut will be exciting for our audience. We also have one of the greatest chorus masters in the world, and ‘Nabucco’ features the expanded chorus of 82 – 35 women and 47 men – in nearly every scene.”
Verdi’s opera chronicling King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule in the Babylonian Kingdom that one reads about in the Holy Bible has captured musically all of the political rivalry, quest for power, forbidden love between Hebrew and Babylonian, and, yes, religious conversion and redemption, is probably best known for its stirring chorus “Va, pensiero” gloriously sung by the Lyric Opera Chorus portraying the Hebrew slaves in captivity. One patron, a dear friend who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, told me that her husband warned her that if she even begins to sing or hum along with the chorus “Va, pensiero,” she will never, ever again attend an opera performance.
Prior to opening night, Željko Lucic (title role) had been ailing and on vocal rest during rehear- sals and Metropolitan Opera baritone Mark Rucker (a Chicago native and Kenwood Academy graduate) who is covering the role was called into service and delivered the stellar performance for which he is known nationally and internationally. (One of the photographs accompanying this article is of Mr. Rucker as King Nabucco during the final dress rehearsal.)
Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi conducts the magnificent Lyric Opera Orchestra (with cello solos performed by Lyric Orchestra principal cellist Callum Cook), and Matthew Ozawa (Lyric directorial debut) directs the production designed by Michael Yeargan (sets); Jane Greenwood (costumes); and Duane Schuler (lighting).
“Nabucco” is being presented in its uncut Ricordi Critical Edition in Italian with English titles, without a prompter, and with one intermission.
Performance dates are January 23, 27, February 6, 9, and 12 at 7:30 p.m.; and January 31 and February 3 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information call 312-827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/nabucco.
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This is my final column as music critic and columnist for The Chicago Crusader as I am retiring effective January 31, 2016. I thank each and every one of you, the subscribers and readers, for your loyalty and support of The Chicago Crusader over these seventeen years and I heartily encourage you to continue the mission on diversity and inclusion. I initially accepted the position for a three-month trial in December 1998 following the death of the illustrious, nonpareil Dr. Theo- dore Charles Stone, my predecessor, and those three months have evolv- ed into the aforementioned seventeen years. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. . . . .Ecclesiastes 2: 1-2”
“And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
(“The Day is Done” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Musically yours, BWP