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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Attila (1845) [118.00]
Giovanni Battista Parodi (bass) - Attila; Susanna Branchini (soprano) - Odabella; Roberto de Biasio (tenor) - Foresto; Sebastian Catana (baritone) - Ezio; Cristiano Cremonini (tenor) - Uldino; Zyian Atleh (bass) - Leone
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Andrea Battistoni
rec. Teatro Regio di Parma, October 2010
extra:introduction to Attila [10.00]
C MAJOR 721608 [128.00]
Among the many operas which Verdi produced during what he called his “galley years” the reputation of Attila has not generally stood very high. Verdi himself had major problems with the text - he originally engaged Francesco Maria Piave, then sacked him and turned to Temistocle Solera, then sacked him in turn and went back to Piave again. Both Piave and Solera had produced quite satisfactory libretti for Verdi in the past, but they signally failed to do so this time. Instead we have a rather broken-backed and unmotivated plot in which, bizarrely, the extended Prologue is longer than any of the three Acts which succeed it. We are left with a succession of single numbers, duets and trios in which a lyrical cavatina is followed by an upbeat cabaletta; rarely does this formula change. The best single aria is that for Ezio at the beginning of the Second Act, but otherwise the melodic inspiration runs rather thin. There are far too many rum-ti-tum brass-heavy march-like movements to allow for variety.
Given the problems, it is perhaps surprising that this is the fourth DVD version of Attila to make the catalogues. The best of the existing issues is Riccardo Muti’s recording from La Scala, which has an excellent cast including Cheryl Studer as the vengeful Odabella, Samuel Ramey as the oddly sympathetic Attila and Giorgio Zancanaro as a full-voiced Ezio. Under the circumstances any rival is going to have its work cut out, and it must be admitted that none of the singers here are in the La Scala league. Even so, they are not a bad collection, with no obviously weak links. All have strong voices which they employ with a considerable degree of subtlety. None are great actors, but then the situations with which they are confronted don’t allow much scope for this.
Susanna Branchini is a fiery Odabella - much better than Cristina Deutekom on the pioneering set of CDs in Lamberto Gardelli’s Philips series - scything her way through the role with some evidence of rawness in the more strenuous coloratura passages but producing some nicely quiet singing when required. Sebastian Catana is also excellent as Ezio, and makes much of his aria Dagl’immortali vertici (track 25). Roberto di Basio is a personable Foresto; he cannot make much dramatic sense of his persistent changes of mood and character, but he shades the music very pleasantly and produces a nicely heroic tone when it is needed. Cristiano Cremonini is very nearly as good, and Zyian Atleh is good and solid as Pope Leo, oddly described in the score and booklet as “an old Roman” - were there censorship problems with the depiction of a Pope on stage in 1845? In the title role Giovanni Battista Parodi sings with nicely rounded tone and ploughs his way manfully through his various barn-storming cabalettas, but his voice is the least individual in the cast and one can imagine that he could possibly have made a more dramatic impression on the stage.
The conductor Andrea Battistoni looks very young indeed, but he has the measure of Verdi’s score and gives it plenty of wallop. The orchestral playing is sometimes a little weak in the string section, but not too seriously so, and the rather small chorus produce plenty of tone. The audience claps mechanically at every full stop, but doesn’t sound too enthusiastic at the end. The applause goes on for over four minutes, but at times it seems as though only two or three people are actually putting their hands together. This is unfair to a set of performers who, if they are not of the very first rank, nevertheless produce a good effect. They testify to today’s high standard of Verdi performance which Italian provincial houses can offer audiences.
The sets by Carlo Savi are more interesting than the rather basic ones at La Scala. They make extensive use of filmed backgrounds, which most effectively suggest the scenes on the battleground and in various forest settings. They are not too well integrated into the foreground stage; better in the final Act than earlier. Sometimes the speed of the camera movement is distracting but the results are often stunning and they give the eye plenty to look at. It is unfortunate under the circumstances that the editing too frequently cuts away to the conductor and the orchestra in the pit. As I have already suggested, the stage direction by Pierfrancesco Maestrini does not make a great impression. Nevertheless, he gets the singers to the right places at the right times and enables them to give of their best when they are there, and doesn’t ask them to do anything outrageous. That is probably all that Attila needs. Lionel Salter’s English subtitles make the convolutions of the plot - such as they are - clear.
Those who want Attila on DVD will probably gravitate to the La Scala issue; but as a stage representation of the opera as part of Unitel’s Tutto Verdi edition, this is by no means a second best.
Paul Corfield Godfrey 

see also review of Bluray release by Robert Farr (February 2013 Recording of the Month)