Reviewing for The Dallas Morning News, Scott Cantrell wrote that the company's first ever production of Verdi's Biblical epic — which opened the Dallas Opera's 50th anniversary season — is "wonderfully cast [by and large], and newly commissioned sets and costumes by Dallas artists Frances Bagley and Tom Orr are striking, at times stunning."
The abstract design for the production features stairways and deep portals, which Cantrell said are "magically lighted by Paul Palazzo ... A backdrop of vertical stripes fronted by vertical rods creates a moir_ Euphrates riverbank. A huge abstract squiggle evokes Babylon's hanging gardens."
Cantrell did find, however, that James Robinson's direction was "curiously stilted, falling back on too many gestural clich_s and failing to ignite crucial confrontations." And in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Matthew Erikson wrote, "That the production might have been trying to strip the story down to its intimate human elements — the troubled conscience of a ruthless king, a dysfunctional royal family — is admirable. But that was undermined by Robinson's static stagings, particularly in the opera's rich choral numbers."
The cast and the Dallas Opera Orchestra were better received. "Music director Graeme Jenkins seemed to take special care with clarity and sensitive scalings. And the orchestra played well," wrote Cantrell.
"Anna Shafajinskaia delivers a scenery-chewing performance as Abigaille," he continued, "her big soprano blazing fearlessly through the vocal fireworks —... Katharine Goeldner is scarcely less thrilling, and flawlessly tuned, as Fenena. Jos_ Luis Duval has just the ample Italianate tenor one wants for Ismaele. Peter Rose brings great dignity to the role of the high priest Zaccaria, and a warm, fluid bass to match.
"Alas, Zeljko Lucic is a Nabucco one can't imagine striking fear throughout the Middle East. His baritone never quite thrills, " he adds.
Erikson was more sympathetic to Lucic, writing that he "won you over with his Act III duet with Shafajinskaia and his Act IV aria. His stage presence often wooden, Lucic still sang with a warm luster and majestic authority.
"But the unsung heroes of the evening," he observes, "were Paul Palazzo, whose attractive lighting design warmed the stage, and chorus master Alexander Rom, who prepared the choristers to near perfection."
The Dallas Opera's production of Verdi's Nabucco continues for two more performances, tonight and Saturday (November 18), at the Fair Park Music Hall in Dallas. More information is available at www.dallasopera.org.