By Bob Bernard
Jay Hunter Morris, the megalomaniacal captain in LA Opera’s production of Moby-Dick a while back, spoke for opera singers everywhere: “Every singer – we all want to kill somebody, we all want to go crazy; we want the mad scene; we want to be dying and lay there and [get to] sing the most beautiful music!”
Va, Pensiero – La Scala 2004
Both Verdi’s Nabucco and Tevye (the milkman in Harnick & Stein’s Fiddler on the Roof) have profound father-daughter issues: Tevye’s three daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, each, in turn, present him with challenges to his authority, while Nabucco has his hands full with just his pair of Abigaille and Fenena.
In Anatevka, Tzeitel dodges an arranged marriage; Hodel becomes involved with Perchik, a radical Marxist; and Chava administers the ‘coup de grace’ by marrying a Russian Orthodox Christian.
In Babylon/Jerusalem, Fenena, a hostage entrusted to the custody of Ishmaele (a nephew of the King of Jerusalem), pairs up with Ishmaele, much as we’ve recently seen Carmen link up with Don José. Even so, Fenena comes across as a “Micaela type”, wholesome and tolerant. Abigaille, on the other hand, is clearly bloodthirsty and ambitious, probably destined to be a role model for Verdi’s Lady Macbeth in the years to come.
Nabucco and Tevye are both challenged (and beaten down) from their respective positions as authority figures and both take this loss as seriously as one would a death-in-the family, reacting in accordance with our now familiar Kübler-Ross protocol of the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
From Tevye [Topol] we heard:
Anger: "Tradition!" And later: Bargaining (if I were a rich man): "I’d discuss the Holy Books with the learned men seven hours every day."
And from Nabucco [Juan Pons]:
On the left: Depression: “Oh, di qual’onta aggravasi questo mio crin canuto!” [What shame has come upon me in my old age!] And later, on the right: Acceptance: “Sorga al tuo Nume tempio questo mio crin canuto!”cnovella. Ei solo e grande!”
[Let a temple be raised to your G-d. The Lord alone is great.]
Along with this final stage of Acceptance comes separation – Tevye from Chava, who has married outside of the faith. Although he declared her ‘dead to the family’, Tevye relents sufficiently to murmur “And G-d be with you” to her as everyone departs Anatevka.
Abigaille’s separation from her family is the totality of death: She has poisoned herself. It develops, of course, that it is this Abigaille who has the ‘last word’ in Verdi’s opera – she gets to experience Jay Hunter Morris’ ‘dream situation’: being the center of attention and dying on stage at opera’s end, while singing Verdi’s gorgeous music:
Maria Guleghina as Abigaille:
“Or chi mi toglie al ferreo pondo del mio delitto?”
[Who will deliver me from the weight of my crime?]