Leo Nucci: An unassumming artist who gets joy in entertaining others

Last Friday, Orchestre Philharmonic de Monte-Carlo took a break from its role in ‘La Bohème’ and moved onto the concert stage at the Royal Opera House Muscat while Maestro Giuseppe Finzi shifted from pit to podium. In contrast to the dramatic opera setting, the intimate concert format presented the world famous Bolognese baritone, Leo Nucci, in a Verdi Gala performance, showcasing two young emerging sopranos of the opera scene. The programme began with a sterling performance of Verdi’s Overture to ‘La Forza del Destino’ in which the brass of the Orchestre immediately had a chance to shine.

Then the great man himself came on stage. The extended aria, ‘Per Me Giunto… O Carlo, Ascolta’ from ‘Don Carlo’, presented Nucci in his signature role as a Verdi baritone father. The seventy-seven-year-old was straight into character without a blink in his sliding, bel canto style. He inhabited the part without exaggeration or melodrama, but the cellos provided plenty of pathos with their warm, sonorous quality. Mr Nucci steadied himself holding the podium and produced a beautiful smooth expressive tone with amazing power and yet terrific tenderness. He concluded the aria (and many others) with impressive sustained heroic top notes which were met with sustained applause and cheers from the auditorium.
From, ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’, Valeria Sepe in sparkling black performed, ‘Morrò, Ma Prima in Grazia’ with her whole being, singing with a warm timbre against a haunting cello solo from Thierry Amadi, with poignant silences between phrases. From the back, Leo Nucci entered as her father in, ‘Eri Tu Che Macchiavi Quell’anima’ with an immediacy rarely glimpsed on stage. Listening to the iconic Mr. Nucci, one is aware of being in the presence of one of the greatest singers alive. He absorbs all the nuances of the role across a vast dynamic range, here dark and passionate, contrasting with a tender interlude from the harp (Élise Veyres) and flutes.
The short, less familiar, Prelude from ‘Attila’ featured some lovely passages from the bass strings and woodwind. Maestro Finzi drew out all the possible orchestral colours from each section. Valeria Sepe returned to the stage for the moving, ‘Tacea la Notte Placida’ from ‘Il Trovatore’, and carried the audience along from the melancholic opening to the lighter, second section. She has exceptional quality and strength in her controlled, high register. The finale of part one from the same opera, ‘Udiste?….Mira, di Acerbe Lagrime…Vivrà! Contende il Giubilo’ was an extended drama between Ms Sepe and Mr Nucci as her father at front stage. They were well matched with some touching ensemble singing. However, without subtitles it was difficult to follow the argument. In fact, a short synopsis of the dialogue would help, without being a distraction.
After the interval, the well-known Prelude to ‘La Traviata’ enabled some fine melodic string playing in the first and second fiddles, under violin soloist, David Lefevre, and lush cello themes. The famous Aria, ‘Di Provenza il Mar, il Suol’ provided a vehicle for Nucci’s beautiful phrasing with some well timed pauses from Maestro Finzi, concluding with another long sustained final note!
The less familiar Overture to ‘Luisa Miller’ explored some warm cello themes and exceptional clarinet obligatos from Véronique Audard, echoed by flutes, building up to a fiery conclusion. It was followed by an equally fiery Leo Nucci as Rigoletto in, ‘Cortigiani, Vil Razza Dannata’, immediately passionate with heartfelt pleading for his daughter, accompanied by a perpetual cello counterpoint from Thierry Amadi.
The entry of Albanian soprano, Enkeleda Kamani in pure white brought a breath of fresh air from last Saturday’s lunchtime recital, now performing as Nucci’s daughter in, ‘Tutte la Feste al Tempio’, and featuring a virtuoso oboe solo from Martin Lefevre. She has stunning stage presence and a vocal maturity despite her 28 years, with an effortless high register and perfect intonation. Singing close together in the duet, Ms Kamani’s soaring clear soprano complemented Nucci’s dramatic lyricism and one felt moved by their blended voices and the affinity between them in the acapella ending.
It plunged into the dark tempestuous ‘Sì Vendetta, Tremenda Vendetta’ a true Verdi dialogue – she pleading, he refusing – culminating in a climax that brought goose bumps, with its piercing top ‘C’. Enkeleda Kamani fairly stole the show on Friday, and it is clear that she has a bright future among the stars. The audience erupted, demanding more until Leo Nucci returned for an encore with tuba and trombone introduction to, ‘Enemy of the fatherland’ from Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chenier’. It was an aria he was comfortable with, allowing extremes of dynamics and range in strong, dramatic phrases.
The harpist joined the clarinet in lush, romantic harmonies, culminating in an ecstatic finale. It was clear from Leo Nucci’s asides and expression that he is a kind, unassuming artist who gets joy from giving pleasure to an audience, however diverse.
This performance was one of the most memorable and arresting of a living legend ever experienced in Muscat, but which will be treasured forever.

PHOTOS BY KHALID AL BUSAIDI