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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Attila - opera in a prologue and three acts (1846) [1:41:26]
Attila: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (bass)
Odabella: Liudmyla Monastyrska (soprano)
Foresto: Stefano La Colla (tenor)
Uldino: Stefan Sbonnik (tenor)
Ezio: George Petean (baritone)
Leone: Gabriel Rollinson (bass)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Munchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušić
rec. live, 13 October 2019, Prinzregententheater, Munich
No libretto
BR KLASSIK 900330 [64:06 + 37:20]

This is a new, live recording of a concert performance of Attila from Munich last October. It immediately comes into competition with two venerable but fine studio recordings from Gardelli and Muti, starring Raimondi and Ramey respectively. (Gardelli also recorded it for Hungaroton, but that is not in the same class.) The other two present formidable casts and in addition there are some very fine live recordings from the likes of Boris Christoff, Jerome Hines and Nicolai Ghiaurov but of course none of those enjoys digital sound of the quality we have here.

Verdi’s ninth opera became inextricably linked with the Risorgimento movement towards reunification and independence; its mood must be one of rousing patriotism. Italian nationalists of the time seized upon Ezio’s words to Attila as having great contemporary relevance: “Avrai tu l’universo; resti l’Italia a me” (You may have the universe; leave Italy to me). The opera needs four first-class soloists to roll out Verdi’s grand melodies with fervour, starting with a great basso cantante but also a really good opera chorus.

I have no complaints about the Bavarian Radio Chorus here but there is no doubt that Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s bass has roughened in tone and loosened in vibrations since I last heard him; compared with Ramey’s rich, steady, resonant bass he sounds considerably less imposing. Raimondi, too, is smoother, if a tad lugubrious. D’Arcangelo still makes quite a big, dark sound but it has distinctly deteriorated from its pristine splendour. He is at his best in his big aria “Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima” but even there, he has moments of unsteadiness and doesn’t command the music like Ghiaurov or Christoff.

The same is very much true of Liudmyla Monastyrska. I heard her live some nine years ago in Macbeth and enjoyed her performance but since then her vibrato has spread alarmingly and has taken over the centre of her voice to become obtrusive. It is still evidently a large instrument but much of the time sounds more like uncontrolled noise than a stream of directed tone – and Odabella has a lot of stratospheric coloratura, so I gain little pleasure from Monastyrska’s clumsy attempt to negotiate it. George Petean is a decent baritone but has a touch too much constriction in his vocal production and is nowhere near as open, exciting and distinctive as predecessors Sherrill Milnes and Giorgio Zancanaro. Tenor Stefano La Colla as Foresto is an unlovely bleater with a tremolo who sings through his nose and slides up to thin top notes; he is enough to send me back to Shicoff and, especially, Bergonzi.

Conductor Ivan Repušić does a good job and provides the drive and enthusiasm this patriotic tub-thumping requires; there is also some lovely scene-painting from the orchestra at the end of the Prologue, depicting the hermits’ huts on stilts in the Adriatic lagoons – but this is opera and we need voices.

This comes in a slimline double CD case with one of those superfluous cardboard covers that you can put straight in the recycling. The booklet is in English and German and supplies a brief plot synopsis but no libretto.

The blurb gushes that in this “recording of the concert performance from the Prinzregententheater, outstanding performers provide authentic fluidity and vocal splendour” and that it was a “highlight of Munich musical life from the end of last year” which “received an enthusiastic reception from the critics”. If that is so, we are in trouble. I can think of absolutely no reason to recommend this over either of the two commercial studio recordings cited above.

Ralph Moore

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