To close its third season, Lyric Opera Baltimore offered a new co-production (with Opera Carolina) of Nabucco that featured some big voices and big statements. Plain, high walls framed the set; a central panel allowed for projections co-designed by Bernard Uzan, who also directed, and Michael Baumgarten. Too often, those projections suggested Computer Graphics 101. There were several cheesy images, especially during the staging's weightiest (or, depending on tastes, the most heavy-handed) element — a parade of images depicting Jewish history up to the Holocaust, projected during the singing of “Va, pensiero,” including during the encore. Otherwise, the look of the production was decidedly old-fashioned (costumes by Malabar), and so was the acting. As for the musical side of things, on May 9 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, the assets started in the pit, where conductor James Meena kept things taut and propulsive and where the first-rate Baltimore Symphony Orchestra poured out abundant sonic force.
This passionate night at the opera gained a good deal of its steam from Michael Chioldi in the title role and Francesca Mondanaro as Abigaille. The baritone's hefty, hearty voice filled out the music with considerable vibrancy, and his phrasing consistently hit home. Chioldi's portrayal could have used more animation, but his sterling vocalism more than compensated. As for Mondanaro, it was easy to hear why she has attracted an enthusiastic following. The soprano shook the rafters, both from the sheer size of her voice and from her electric phrasing. This sort of high-impact singing isn't encountered every day. But such things as audible gear-shifting between registers and often steely or wayward top notes took a significant toll. Still, the intense conviction in Mondanaro's vocalism counted for a lot, even when her acting left something to be desired (Abigaille's angst at the start of Act II was perhaps not best demonstrated by kicking large pillows across the stage floor).
Oren Gradus did not fill out Zaccaria's music with quite enough tone, but there was stylish weight to his phrasing. Ola Rafalo used her velvety mezzo to keen effect as Fenena. Ta'u Pupu'a produced plenty of sound as Ismaele, but it wasn't very warm and wasn't always focused squarely on pitch. The chorus did generally firm, sensitive work. Although the audience was invited to sing along with the repeat of "Va, pensiero" (the surtitles obligingly switch to Italian), there didn't seem to be many takers.