Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
- opera in prologue and three acts (1846)
Attila - Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Ezio - Vladislav Sulimsky (baritone)
Odabella - Anna Markarova (soprano)
Foresto - Sergei Skorokhodov (tenor)
Uldino - Mikhail Makarov (tenor)
Leone - Timur Abdikeyev (bass)
Arturo Gama (stage director)
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. December 2010, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; PCM Stereo;5.1 Dolby Surround, 5.1
The onward march of the Mariinsky’s own label
continues with this, their first opera to be released on DVD. If this
keystone Italian work, sung by a Russian cast, seems a bizarre or off-putting
choice then be prepared to put aside your doubts because, for me, it
succeeds on pretty much every front.
The Mariinsky is one of the few houses these days that possesses a true
ensemble at its heart, and it is pretty astonishing that they could
so successfully cast Attila with singers who are all Russian.
True, some of them have also made their names elsewhere, but they all
owe a debt to the Mariinsky Theatre in some respect and their coming
together for this opera is a triumph.
Without a great bass in the title role there is no point in even considering
a production of Attlia, but happily Gergiev has found one in
Ildar Abdrazakov. He is thrilling throughout the set, worthy of comparison
with the very finest basses who have taken this role on record before
him. His tone is lyrical and infinitely musical, but he manages to bring
drama of the highest intensity to the character, especially his bloodthirsty
utterances in the Prologue. He is also genuinely commanding at the moments
where he has to be. His account of the dream in Act 1 is fantastic,
both in its vocal acting and its sense of the long Verdian line which
he spins in what seems to be an effortless manner. His change of heart
before the Pope is meltingly lyrical in a way that is exceptionally
sensitive. In short, he has the full measure of the role and can easily
bear comparison with other recorded Attilas, such as Ramey or Raimondi.
Every bit as authoritative is the bass-baritone of Vladislav Sulimsky,
who invests the character of Ezio with more gravitas than you will hear
elsewhere. There is notably more depth to his voice than in that of,
say, Milnes on the Gardelli set and, exciting as is his duet with Attila
in the Prologue, his singing of Ezio’s aria at the start of Act
2 knocks on the door of greatness, elevating this music into territory
that makes you think of the composer in his Trovatore years.
In her armour and breastplate Anna Markarova looks as though she should
be singing Brünnhilde, and her entrance aria does, indeed, have
the heft (and subtlety) of a Valkyrie war-cry. However, she mellows
her tone to give a very moving account of her Act 1 aria and she reveals
herself to be a Verdi soprano of rare distinction and versatility, not
just an inveterate yeller. She displays moments of lyricism while retaining
the ability to cut through the texture of the big ensembles, and she
adds a distinctive flash of colour to the great concertante scenes.
I also loved the sound made by tenor Sergei Skorokhodov, who produces
a remarkable blend of Italianate tone refracted through Slavonic darkness.
His aria and cabaletta at the end of the Prologue brings down the curtain
in exhilarating form. He proves every bit the match of Markarova in
their fantastic Act 1 duet, one of the highlights of the set because
it matches two fantastic vocal talents who are inspired to strike sparks
off one another.
With such an excellent quartet of soloists it’s hard for the set
to go wrong, and their great quartet in the third act is a fantastic
display of sheer good singing, but what of the others? Well, the chorus
sing at their usual excellent standard, but you need to put some effort
into forgetting that they’re Russian: when the Aquileians first
appear, for example, they sound like a chorus of Orthodox monks with
their guttural consonants. However, their sound is always exciting,
and the same is true for Gergiev himself, who shows himself to be surprisingly
adept at early Verdi, mainly because he doesn’t try and over-complicate
things. Instead he isn’t afraid to let rip (not a technical term!)
when he needs to and he lets the orchestra go for it in their rum-ti-tum
moments. Consequently, the cabalettas are particularly exciting because
everyone involved, in the pit and on the stage, is encouraged to give
it their all and to hell with the consequences. In this he has a touch
of Muti about him without that conductor’s occasional pretences.
He isn’t afraid, for example, to allow Foresto his unwritten high
note at the end of the Prologue, something that would never have been
allowed at La Scala. He prolongs the big chords that end acts in a way
that elongates the drama and exhilarates the listener. Overall I found
him an exciting, enervating presence. I can understand some objecting
to his lack of Italianate style and phrasing, but for me that loss was
more than made up for by the sheer excitement of his reading.
The production is a traditional, stand-and-deliver affair complete with
togas and bloody swords, which does the opera no harm at all. The technical
side of things is also very good, with excellent picture quality and
good surround sound that displays the sweep of the drama while allowing
individual voices to come to just the right levels of prominence at
the right times. It’s a shame that there are no extras, but that
doesn’t detract from what remains an excellent performance, and
an exciting way to launch the Mariinsky’s series of opera DVDs.
It’s a completely different experience to Muti’s La Scala
recordings, both on CD and DVD, but it’s worthy to stand alongside
them. Don’t be scared to give it a try.