NabuccoNabucco – Chisinau National Opera & National Philharmonic Orchestra at the NCH, Sunday 30th March.

Madness and romance, intrigue and deception, from Jerusalem to Babylon – the story of Verdi’s Nabucco is of fairly epic proportions. Tonight’s production takes that grand scale and squeezes it all on to the not overly-spacious stage of the National Concert Hall – designer Felix Bessonov’s set is effective, if traditional.

The first act opens in the Temple of Solomon, the chorus of the Israelites setting the scene. Despite their relatively small number, the chorus is strong, well balanced with conductor Nicolae Dohotaru’s orchestra. Petru Racovita in the title role of the Babylonian king impresses from the start. His strong, clear voice is matched with a commanding stage presence – vital for a character that is meant to inspire fear and awe. Equally strong when she appears is Olga Busuioc, in the role of Abigaille. Of the three female characters in Temistocle Solera’s libretto, Abigaille is perhaps the strongest – Busuoic’s voice brings a welcome touch of empathy for the power-hungry, would-be queen. Although there is romance aplenty, this is really the story of her brief ascent to power.

Alongside all this political intrigue, there is also the developing love triangle involving Abigaille, Nabucco’s second daughter Fenena, and Ismaele, an Israelite envoy. Fenena, ably sung tonight by Zarui Vardanean, is maybe the least developed of the female leads – her role essentially that of helpless captive, Vardanean has a tenderness to her voice that makes the romantic subplot more engaging than it might otherwise have been.

The chorus are tasked with performing what is probably the most well-known part of the opera – Va Pensiero or The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. Rousing, impassioned, Va Pensiero is a lament for the loss of their homeland – despite the chorus’ limited numbers, it loses none of its characteristic grandeur.

What might have been drawbacks – the cramped stage, the small chorus – have instead tonight helped to create a sense of intimacy, one that allows the machinations of the characters become all the more visible. When Nabucco sees Fenena being led away, the trumpets call clear and mournful, that intimate scale means we are drawn into his sorrow, into the very human side of this drama.

As Nabucco reclaims first his mind and then his throne, Racovita retains command of the stage as he has throughout. In the final moments though, as he frees his prisoners, it is Busuioc’s Abigaille who again makes the strongest impression;  her dying pleas for mercy are beautifully sung before Nabucco, the restored king, has the final word.