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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Attila - Opera in a prologue and three acts (1846)
Attila, King of the Huns – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (bass); Ezio, a Roman general - Simone Piazzola (baritone); Odabella, daughter of the Lord of Aquileia – Mari José Siri (soprano); Foresto, a knight of Aquiliea – Fabio Sartori (tenor); Uldino, a young Breton, Gianluca Floris - (tenor); Leone, an old Roman – Antonio Di Matteo (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Communale Di Bologna/Michele Mariotti
rec. Teatro Communale Di Bologna. Feb. 2016
Director: Daniele Abbado
Stage and Lighting Designer, Gianni Carluccio
Costumes Designer, Gianni Carluccio and Daniela Cernigliaro
Video Director, Arnalda Canali
Video format: Filmed in HD. 1080i; Aspect: 16:9. Sound Format: PCM Stereo. DTS-HD MA 5.01
Booklet notes in English, German, French
Subtitles. Italian (original language), English, German, French, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR Blu-ray 748804 [116 mins]

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. 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 Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

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 perhaps to be found in the character of the music, which is here in the simpler, more thrusting style evident in Nabucco. These qualities are most evident 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 his opening aria Urli rapine (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 doubtless designed to arouse patriotic sentiment against the occupying Hapsburgs as were the Risorgimento choruses, and as had been the case in many of Verdi’s early works. They helped stir the dormant nationalism that eventually brought about the unification and independence of Italy in the late 1850s and in which Verdi, as a politician and statesman, played a significant role. 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, which is perhaps related to the equivocal nature of his role as Odabella’s lover as well as a soldier intent on revenge.

This production was shared between the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Teatro La Fenice in Venice and, as in this performance, the Teatro Communale Di Bologna. It was seen at the three theatres, with various changes of cast, in the early months of 2016. The vocal strengths of this cast are near ideal for the music and story. In the eponymous role Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is not quite on top form, as his normally mellifluous bass voice is sometimes a little raw. His acting, however, is convincing, as is his stage presence, always benefiting from his physical stature. As Ezio, the opponent Attila admires and honours, Simone Piazzola is a new voice to me and welcome for its Italianate quality in an era where such strengths have been sadly lacking among stage persona in the operatic world. He sings with strength, variety of tone and acts well. As Odabella, Uruguayan Mari José Siri, is also new to me. She is an outstanding actress with a warm well-centred voice with more than adequate vocal strength to her tone to ride the demands of Verdi’s stirring music. Hearing her took my mind back to the Decca issue of Verdi’s Nabucco, conducted by much missed Verdian, Lamberto Gardelli, and with Elena Suliotis as Abigaille riding the composer’s stirring music like a steeple chasing jockey at The Grand National (Decca CD. 417 407-2). There are no curdled notes from Siri, just vocal strength, excellent diction and expression to go along with her committed acted interpretation. Hers is a considerable strength to this recording. As her lover, Foresto, a knight of Aquiliea, Fabio Sartori does not have the ideal stage persona of a romantic lover. However, he has some - and only some - of the qualities one hopes to hear from a native Italian tenor in this repertoire.

Thus far, I have not mentioned the production or staging, which is minimalist; in the prologue, the fighters return from battle leaving a devastated land. As the plot moves on, the costumes, however, end up a mixture of old and modern and spoil the period effect. Ultimately, this mélange is a distraction and in my eyes the weakness of the production.

Along with the soloists mentioned, the playing of the orchestra, and the contribution of the chorus, are of the highest order. I was greatly impressed by both the sensitivity and vigour, when appropriate, of the well-paced, conducting of a young-looking Michele Mariotti on the rostrum and his rendering of Verdi’s intentions.

Apart from Nabucco, and its Chorus of Hebrew Slaves, early Verdi gets little exposure on the stages of the world’s major opera houses and certainly none appears on any of the popular cinema transmissions with their recently discovered love of lesser-known Donizetti for example. Fortunately, Milan’s La Scala keeps Verdi alive in Italy alongside other smaller theatres, not least that at Parma and those where this production was seen.

Robert J Farr

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