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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Attila - Opera in a prologue and three acts (1846)
Libretto by Temistocle Solera after Zacharias Werner’s play Attila, König der Hunnen.
First performed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 17 March 1846
Attila, King of the Huns, Nicola Ghiuselev (bass); Ezio, a Roman general, Lybomir Videnov (bar); Odabella, daughter of the Lord of Aquileia, Marie Krikorian (sop); Foresto, a knight of Aquiliea, Boiko Zvetanov (ten); Uldino, a young Breton, Attila’s slave, Boris Bogdanov (ten); Leone, an ancient Roman, Plamen Hidjov (bass)
Sofia National Opera Chorus
Sofia State Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ghiaurov
No recording date or venue given. First published by Delta Music, Frechen, Germany 1997. A digital DDD recording
CAPRICCIO EDITION OPERA 51 201 [69.21 + 40.57]


Attila
is Verdi’s ninth opera. Premiered in 1846, it was well into what he called his ‘galley years’ period following the success of his third opera, Nabucco in 1841. During this time he was constantly on the move from his base in Milan to bring his latest opera to the stage and to supervise revivals. This pace of life took its toll on his frail psyche and bodily well-being. In 1845 he wrote ‘My mind is always black ... I must look forward to the passing of the next three years. I must write six operas’. One of those six was Attila. It was the first of three written under a contract with the publisher Lucca who retained all rights. It was the first time Verdi had written for a publisher not a theatre. Some years later Lucca sold the autograph of Attila to a wealthy Englishman living in Florence. It is now held in the British Museum and is the only Verdi autograph not held by the Italian publisher Ricordi or the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

In Verdi’s compositional sequence Attila follows on from the failure of Alzira whose limitations the composer himself recognised. With their rousing choruses and oppressed people, Verdi’s operas became associated with the Risorgimento, the battle for the unification of the separate states of the peninsula, many of which were under foreign occupation. Certainly, when the Roman General Ezio calls on the conquering Attila, King of the Huns, ‘You may have the universe but leave Italy to me’ the line roused the contemporary population against the occupying Hapsburgs. Verdi was certainly inspired by the story, and although there are significant choral contributions, the librettists followed Verdi’s instructions to concentrate on the principles.

The role of the somewhat magnanimous victor, Attila, requires a full and refulgent basso cantante voice. In the well-conducted and recorded rival CD versions, on Philips and EMI, Ruggero Raimondi and Samuel Ramey sing the role. In this Bulgarian performance the native-born bass Nicola Ghiuselev takes it. Whilst never reaching the heights of his recorded rivals, or that which his compatriot Nicolai Ghiaurov might have attained, he is a singer who can do justice to the dramatic demands of the role. His singing is strong voiced, well characterised with good diction and a feel for a Verdian phrase. These attributes are heard to good effect in Attila’s duet with Ezio who utters the fateful phrase ‘Resti l’Italia a me’ (CD 1 trs.9-10). It is a thrilling duet in typical middle-period Verdian style with some rum-ti-tum music that belies the sentiments expressed. The Ezio of Lybomir Videnov is also strongly characterised. He sings with firm tone but lacks any great variety of tonal colours or elegance of phrase (CD 2 trs. 1-4). Whatever those limitations his singing is far preferable to the strained efforts of the tenor Boiko Zvetanov as Foresto (CD 1 trs 11-17), a role memorably sung with consummate Verdian style by Bergonzi on the Philips issue. The role of Odabella, whose father Attila has killed and who stabs him in revenge at the conclusion of the finale (CD 2 tr. 18), needs a strong voiced soprano with flexibility and heft as well as a wide tonal palette. Cristina Deutekom for Gardelli (Philips) lacks the ideal tonal variety and dramatic vibrancy, skills that Cheryl Studer (EMI) has in abundance in her outstanding portrayal. In this performance Marie Krikorian has vibrancy and tonal colour but lacks steadiness of vocal emission to the point of detracting from her interpretation and destroying any enjoyment in listening (CD 1 trs. 18-19).

The conductor Vladimir Ghiaurov, tends to whip up the orchestral and choral dynamics at any opportunity. Regrettably he does so without any apparent feel for Verdian cantilena or phrasing. Initially exhilarating the effect soon becomes tiring. Verdi’s music in Attila does not need or benefit of this treatment to give impetus or weight to the drama. The music of Attila, like its immediate successor Macbeth, speaks for itself if the interpreters let it. The singing and conducting found on this issue might pass muster for one night in the theatre, but do not meet the requirements for enjoyable repeated listening at home with no staging to distract from its failings. This is particularly so given the small price advantage over the better recorded and sung Philips recording which has been recently reissued with full libretto and English translation AmazonUK. This issue has an excellent track-related synopsis in four languages which benefits from having the opening lines bolded; an excellent idea. The discs are also generously tracked.

Robert J Farr

 

 



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