Verdi’s breakout hit in 1842, with its themes of captivity and the longing for freedom, was a poignant piece during its debut as Italy battled for its independence amid wars and political reshuffling. Allegorical as it may have been to the Italians of the mid 19th century, I viewed Nabucco at its face value: an early Verdi work of biblical proportions.
Nabucco (Italian for “Nebuchadnezzar”) is loosely based on King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Israelites. However, it should be plain to anyone who has ever seen only part of Nabucco that the opera is misnamed. The real title should have been Abigaille after Nabucco’s power-hungry, domineering daughter. She had the most scenes, the heftiest arias, and the central “villainess” role. Plácido Domingo, the world-renowned veteran taking on the title baritone role, appeared to be a hapless pushover when shouldered next to Liudmila Monstyrska’s broody Abigaille.
A lackluster love triangle storyline was almost enough to derail the entire the opera if it hadn’t of been for the true stars of the performance: the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. The one and only scene that rejuvenated the tepid opera was the Hebrew Slaves Chorus in Act III. So breathtaking and enlightening was the rendition that it was encored to great pleasure.
Designing costumes for ancient-set operas is something that rarely sends my heart into ecstatics. Whether it be the hot desert dust or the use of ordinary sandals and figure-swallowing robes, I have to take extra measures to become motivated to sew for such settings. Fortunately, the Met’s classic staging of Nabucco offered me a generous hint for my costume. As mentioned above, the Hebrew Slaves Chorus was THE “wait for it” moment of the opera. Why not dress down for a change and become a slave for a day ? This I did.
My mother had a patchwork chambray dress in her closet that I used for my base. Although not darkened with dirt, the patches symbolized simplicity and frugality to me, which I thought fitting for a slave. Looking over photos from past performances of Nabucco, however, the Hebrew Slaves donned on their heads what seemed like Betsy Ross mop(b) caps from the Colonial times.
Okay, I could do that… Actually, it was easier than I thought. All that was needed were two large circles of fabric, elastic, and a sewing machine. There are numerous tutorials online for making a mop/mob cap, but I found this one to be the most helpful, especially since this was to be my second sewing project ever. Just remember to cut larger circles if making one for an adult ! http://pattisoriginals-pattisplace.blogspot.com/2010/12/tutorial-mop-cap.html?m=1
What’s slavery without bondage ? Some lightweight plastic Halloween chains added an obvious denotation to my outfit while a slouchy gray cardigan, grease-stained apron, and socked sandals helped me fit right in with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus.
And yes, dirt was part of the job. Or rather, brown and black eyeshadow brushed onto my face… While I may have looked the part of servitude, I didn’t desire to smell of it !
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Nabucco ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1842)
Live in HD air date: January 7, 2017
Nabucco ─ Plácido Domingo
Abigaille ─ Liudmila Monstyrska
Fenena ─ Jamie Barton
Ismaele ─ Russell Thomas
Zaccaria ─ Dmitry Belosselskiy
Conductor ─ James Levine
Production ─ Elijah Moshinsky
Set Designer ─ John Napier
Costume Designer ─ Andreane Neofitou
Lighting Designer ─ Howard Harrison
Revival Stage Director ─ J. Knighten Smit
Live In HD Director ─ Barbara Sweete
Host ─ Eric Owens