[Met Performance] CID:353381
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Attila {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/23/2010.

(Debuts: Riccardo Muti, Giovanni Meoni, Pierre Audi, Miuccia Prada, Herzog & de Meuron, Robby Duiveman

Metropolitan Opera House
February 23, 2010

Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Attila..................Ildar Abdrazakov
Odabella................Violeta Urmana
Foresto.................Ramón Vargas
Ezio....................Giovanni Meoni [Debut]
Leone...................Samuel Ramey
Uldino..................Russell Thomas

Conductor...............Riccardo Muti [Debut]

Production..............Pierre Audi [Debut]
Designer................Miuccia Prada [Debut]
Designer................Herzog & de Meuron [Debut]
Lighting Designer.......Jean Kalman
Assoc Costume Designer..Robby Duiveman [Debut]

Attila received ten performances this season

Production gift of Elena Prokupets, in memory of Rudy Prokupets

Production photos of Attila by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of David J. Baker in OPERA NEWS

Under Riccardo Muti's leadership, the Met premiere of Verdi's "Attila" was an evening of genuine musical distinction. The Metropolitan Opera marked two milestones at once when Riccardo Muti made his long-awaited company debut conducting the first performance of Verdi's "Attila" in Met history. It was an evening of genuine musical distinction, whatever reservations may have persisted concerning the work itself and the physical production.

Gruelingly difficult to sing, offhanded and eccentric as a drama and mostly simplistic in ideology, "Attila" is Verdi's ninth opera, a work usually ranked below his finest early products ("Nabucco," "Ernani," "Macbeth"), although its forceful tunes bear the composer's unmistakable stamp. In enacting the apocryphal assassination of the Hun invader by a Christian woman in fifth-century Italy, this opera struck nationalistic, xenophobic themes that won Italian hearts at its 1846 premiere in Venice.

The Met's fine inaugural performance (Feb. 23) was a tribute to Muti's technical and stylistic authority and, no less important, to his ability to inspire his collaborators. This effect was clear from the first big theme of the prelude, in which the Met orchestra's strings and winds swelled with the mellow tone and strong inner pulse that mark the Verdi ideal. Chorus and soloists alike, even at aggressive tempos, struck a fine balance between incisive timbre and a sweeping, unbroken line.

The production was designed jointly by fashionista Miuccia Prada and the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron (noted for its Beijing Olympic Stadium) and staged by European-based director Pierre Audi. In an advance interview, Audi stressed the production team's aim of making "Attila" a small-scale drama among individuals, in which nationality, ideology and religion shrink in significance.

As film buffs know from Jean Renoir's classic "La Grande Illusion," a humanist approach to war drama does not require a denial of specific differences such as national identity, language or even uniforms; such details remain a necessary foil. This "Attila," on the contrary, aims for transcendence in a vacuum.

The sets, when actually in use, showed massive heaps of rubble or vegetation. Though not inappropriate in theme, these structures were obtrusive, tending to cramp the action into low-ceilinged compartments or narrow windows. It was disconcerting to hear Foresto and the chorus vow to found a city (Venice) on these shores "fra cielo e mar" (between sea and sky), while they almost bumped their heads on the roof.

Costumes had an improvised, tongue-in-cheek quality. Space-age helmets and modern-day gym-wear coexisted with epaulettes and other apparent plunder from the attic. Odabella, the Amazonian heroine, traveled in evening gown and a startling skyscraper hairdo.

The general effect was to deny any sense of specific period, any view of Italian landscape or militant pageantry, let alone a trace of national or ethnic profiling. The action was reduced to chamber-opera scale, with all dances and marches barred and the chorus huddled on the floor downstage. All this amounted to a politically correct antidote to the Risorgimento ardor of Odabella's entry aria celebrating "sacred, limitless love of country," or Roman general Ezio's plea to Attila: "Take the universe, but leave Italy to me!"

While applying this corrective surgery, the production failed to address the opera's fundamental dramatic problem - the weakness of its title character, a conqueror who falls victim to infatuation and superstition. Attila shows largesse toward some defeated enemies, but he gets little respect, starting five minutes into the opera, when he asks why his orders have been disobeyed. In director Audi's hands, this failed villain is strikingly passive and stumbles feebly into the fatal trap.

Ildar Abdrazakov remained an enigmatic presence in the title role, not helped by his smooth, but fairly cool, bass timbre and a lack of commanding or regal gestures. Showing more vocal caution than dramatic energy, he achieved his best effects in a freely produced higher register. In the important Act I quintet ("Spiriti, fermate"), Abdrazakov lacked resonance in the octave-and-a-half descent to A-flat in the bass clef, meant as the vocal enactment of Attila's prostration before the gods.

The strong character is Odabella, non-biblical version of Judith, who is humanized by conflicting drives. She's a close relative of Abigaille from "Nabucco," her lines demanding both vehemence and agility - but on a grander scale. Violeta Urmana seemed energized in the role, with a hefty dramatic-soprano timbre that she controlled with poise and sensitivity in the Act I solo, "Oh! nel fuggente nuvolo." Though her top notes lacked focus at higher speeds - as in the Act II finale, or the high C that occurs just seven bars after her first entrance - she was effective in the barrage of runs and roulades in her aria, "Santo di patria."

Ramon Vargas brought admirable lyricism and emotional urgency to the role of Foresto, the Roman suitor of Odabella who must alternate between jealous fury and sudden reconciliations. Sounding constricted at full voice in the upper register, Vargas occasionally resorted to head tone; the effect may have been slightly anachronistic for Verdi, but it allowed him to phrase his lines memorably.

A cancellation by Carlos Alvarez led to the house debut of Italian baritone Giovanni Meoni in the beefy role of Ezio. An experienced Verdian, apparently very much in his prime, Meoni displayed a firm, rounded timbre and acute stylistic sense that made him a real asset to the production. Tenor Russell Thomas was excellent as Uldino, while Samuel Ramey, a fine Attila under Muti in years past, had fitting gravitas and resonance in his brief appearance as Leone.

Verdi would later insist on stronger characters than librettist Temistocle Solera provided for him here; he would also learn to craft memorable climactic scenes, rather than the telegraphic ending that mars "Attila." The score has been faulted for slavish reliance on cavatina-cabaletta structure, a concern that may have prompted Muti to have the fast repeats embellished by soloists (without much brilliant effect, truth be told). But it was his more fundamental approach that made all the difference, especially this conductor's ability to conceive and propel complex vocal structures, including the fiery cabalettas, for dramatic purpose.

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