RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Attila - Opera in a prologue and three acts (1846)
Attila, King of the Huns - Giovanni Battista Parodi (bass); Ezio, a Roman general - Sebastián Catana (baritone); Odabella, daughter of the Lord of Aquileia - Susanna Branchini (soprano); Foresto, a knight of Aquiliea - Roberto De Biasio (tenor); Uldino, a young Breton, Attila’s slave - Cristiano Cremonini (tenor); Leone, an old Roman - Zyian Atfeh (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Andrea Battistoni
rec. Verdi Theatre, Busetto, October 2010
Director: Pier Francesco Maestrini
Sets and Costumes: Carlo Salvi
Video Projections: Alfredo Troisi.
Video format: 1080i; Aspect: 16:9. Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01
Booklet notes in English, German, French
Subtitles. Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR BLU RAY 721704 [118:00 + 10:00]
This is numbered 9 in the complete edition of all twenty-six Verdi operas, plus the Requiem, scheduled to appear on video. Recorded at the Parma Verdi Festival, and called Tutto Verdi, the edition will mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth.
Premiered in 1846, when Verdi was thirty-three years old, Attila was written well into the period following the success of his third opera, Nabucco in 1841. He called this period his “years in the galley” as, during this time, he was constantly on the move from his base in Milan to bring his latest opera to the stage and supervise revivals of others. 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. Several years later Lucca sold the autograph to a wealthy Englishman living in Florence. It is now in the British Museum and is the only Verdi autograph not held by the Italian publisher Ricordi or the Bibliothčque Nationale in Paris.
Based on Zacharias Werner’s play Attila, König der Hunnen, Verdi’s opera was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, in March 1846. In sequence it follows on from the failure of Alzira whose limitations the composer himself recognised. Alzira is one of the two Verdi operas that, prior to the recordings to be issued in this series, has not previously appeared in the video medium.
Interest in Attila only waned as it was overtaken by the popularity of the great trio of the composer’s middle period: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata. The reason for this is to be found the delineation of character in the music allied with the thrusting style found in Nabucco. These qualities are there in the rousing choruses and in the arias and duets that define the characters. The magnanimous nature of Attila, who has raised Aquileia is heard in the opening aria (CH.3) and when he is confronted by the feisty Odabella (CHS.4-6). That of his respected opponent, Ezio, is evident as he calls on the victor “You may have the universe but leave Italy to me” (CH.7); the line was designed to rouse nationalistic sentiments against the occupying Hapsburgs. A similar sub-text possesses the music for Odabella, the feisty daughter of the slaughtered King of Aquileia. This is immediately evident when she confronts Attila and later when she has to convince her lover, Foresto, that she remains faithful to the cause and to the intention to kill Attila (CHs.14-15 and 34-35). The music for her lover, Foresto is not as well defined, perhaps related to the equivocal nature of his role as lover of Odabella as well as a soldier intent on revenge.
This performance was recorded at the Teatro Verdi in the town of Bussetto, where Verdi lived and later bought his estate. It was the place where as a child he had lodged with Barezzi, who subsequently financed his musical education in Milan and whose daughter he married. She, together with their two young children died as Verdi sought to build his career. The building of the theatre and its naming brought some conflict between Verdi and the town council who expected him to contribute to its building. He eventually did so, but never entered it. It seats only about three hundred, fewer for opera productions. Its cramped stage conditions are challenging for directors. Franco Zeffirelli produced operas there, as has the vastly experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi who presented I Vespri Siciliani in 2003 (see review). He produces the same opera that is featured in this series with Daniela Dessi as Elena. Verdi’s second opera, Un Giorno di Regno, already issued in this series (review in hand) was also recorded in this theatre.
Pier Francesco Maestrini, the director of this production, sets things in period with the help of costumes and minimal sets by Carlo Salvi. He achieves a most atmospheric and realistic setting by the use of imaginative and active video projections by Alfredo Troisi. Perhaps the best of these is in Act Three where the woodlands even have an apparently flowing stream. These projections allow the Director full use of the small stage with minimal restriction. He uses it most imaginatively and in a realistic manner to allow the soloists and chorus to present a very worthy performance.
In such a small theatre it is difficult to assess the absolute qualities of the soloists. Suffice to say that there are no evident weaknesses. In the title role Giovanni Battista Parodi is sonorous and generally steady with an imposing physical presence. He is matched by his opponent Ezio, sung with tonal strength and excellent characterisation by the Romanian baritone, Sebastián Catana. As the feisty Odabella, Susanna Branchini is a revelation. She sounds like the genuine article: a dramatic Verdi soprano. Rather like the young Elena Suliotis she tends to fling her voice with abandon and the effect is electric. I would like to hear her in a larger theatre. Roberto De Biasio features on several of the issues in this series. I have noted in my review of his singing of the role of the young Foscari in the performance of I Due Foscari (review in hand) his is a voice of much promise with a pleasing clear timbre. He often makes an effort at expression as well as singing mezza voce and sotto voce when appropriate. As in that 2009 performance, he still lacks elegance of phrasing but I hope that aspect will develop. On the plus side he does not shout, varying his modulation to the music and words; virtues not exhibited by every contemporaneous tenor in the Verdi repertoire.
To the virtues of the staging and singing I must add those of the vibrant and committed acting of the chorus. Then there is the matter of the conducting of Andrea Battistoni. He looks far too young to be in charge of a production of any Verdi work, let alone one so demanding in drama and full of thrust and rousing melody. I gather that he was a mere twenty-three years of age at this performance! He certainly seems to be of that line of Italian conductors, some of whom have gone on to great careers on the rostrum at some of the best operatic addresses as well as music director titles. The audience certainly recognise the quality of his contribution at the curtain.
On CD there are two alternatives worthy of consideration. That on Philips (426 115-2) issued as part of their early Verdi series has the immaculate Carlo Bergonzi as Foresto alongside a thin-toned Cristina Deutekom as Odabella. Ruggero Raimondi sings the title role sonorously, albeit a touch lugubrious. On EMI (see review) a sonorous and characterful Samuel Ramey in the eponymous role is well matched by Cheryl Studer as Odabella. Whilst Neil Schicoff is no match for Bergonzi, the two baritones, Sherrill Milnes on Philips and Giorgio Zancanaro on EMI, are excellent. The Opus Arte DVD from La Scala, recorded in the 1990-1991 season (OA LS 3010 D) enjoys a realistic staging. It is conducted by Muti who has the same main cast as his EMI CD recording except for Kaludi Kaludov as an undistinguished Foresto.
Robert J Farr
Imaginatively staged, well-sung, vibrantly and idiomatically conducted. A thrilling winner in this series.
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