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Verdi: Attila (2010) (Parodi/ Catana/ Branchini/ Andrea Battistoni/ Pier Francesco Maestrini) (C Major: 721608) [DVD]  [NTSC]
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Staged by Pierfrancesco Maestrini at the Parma Festival, October 2010
Based on a Romantic tragedy by Zacharias Werner, Attila is set in the 5th century AD. The opera takes as its starting point Attila's plans to storm Rome with his army of Huns and the Roman's attempts to prevent him. As with Nabucco and I Lombardi, Verdi spiced up the action with a number of patriotic choruses, guaranteeing that against the background of the Italian movement for unification the opera was a great success.
Susanna Branchini is something of a revelation. This Roman soprano has an incredibly exciting voice. She lacks fullness in some of her bottom notes, but the virtuosity and vibrancy can be thrilling, especially in the cabaletta to her cavatina in the Prologue, her warrior spirit at full tilt... Just as fine is the Romanian-born baritone Sebastian Catana, resplendent in tone as Ezi, the Roman general; his phrasing is tremendous and he makes the most of his Act 2 aria and cabaletta - a real find. He is also excellent in duet with Parodi in the Prologue. --Mark Pullinger, International Record Review
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Dramatically however there's never a dull moment in Attila. Much of the reason for that is down to Verdi's sense of arrangement and his scoring for a situation that appeals to the sentiments of a nation seeking its own independence. The qualities of Verdi's dramatic writing are all there then and the cast for this 2010 production of Attila at the Teatro Verdi di Busseto are more than capable of bringing them out. The theatre - seen previously in the 'Tutto Verdi' release of Oberto - has a tiny stage that you'd scarcely think capable of putting on a work as big and ambitious as this. The use of 3D-CG projections in Pier Francesco Maestrini's direction might not be the ideal solution, but it's a reasonable means of covering the epic settings of battlefields, ships, stormy seas, Roman camps and forest glades. It's a little cheesy, but probably no more so than painted backdrops, which would be the only other feasible option for a stage this size.
There's still not much room for the singers to do anything more than stand and belt out Verdi's big numbers, but the costumes, the stage directions and the performances all make reasonably good use of the limited resources.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Vocally and dramatically, though, this is one "kick butt" performance!
Bass Giovanni Battista Parodi is a very effective Attila, but he is no Sam Ramey, who owned this role for years (his La Scala performance with Cheryl Studer is available on DVD and is worth owning despite a so-so tenor). But after a bit of warming up, Parodi delivers the goods. (The helmet he wears in the first scene looks like the headgear of the alien in "Predator", though, which is a distraction)
So does Susanna Branchini, who is new to me, as Odabella. There is a visceral intensity to her portrayal, which suits the role to a "T". She is vocally secure from top to bottom and pulls of some very nice emotion in her duets with her squeeze, Foresto.
Roberto De Biasio is a hugely effective Foresto. Musically and dramatically he is the real deal, and has been such in every performance of his I have seen.
Sebastian Catana is a very good baritone who does a solid job bringinging Ezio to life. His aria in the prologue in which he tries to ally with Attila is especially well executed, with one of Verdi's best baritone phrases (Take the whole world, but leave Italy for me)being particularly effective.
Conductor Andrea Battistoni does an excellent job, fully realizing the score, in my opinion.
Of course, this is "early Verdi", which to me means tuneful and highly driven music which is very enjoyable, as far as I am concerned. And it is regional Italian opera upon which some frown ( but not I!) with less of a budget than the major opera houses have, with attendant quality differences in staging, costumes, etc.
I have no idea what goodies will pour forth from the DVD folks in 2013, the bicentennial of Verdi's birth, so there well may be an Atilla with a bigger budget. But there is something about the intensity of regional opera in Italy, particularly in Parma, which is in the heart of "Verdi Country" that does not translate to the urbane big city houses to which I relate. The audience here is not just happy with the performance, it is ecstatic, with all the screams, etc. that make this evident.
I really like this Atilla and wish that I could have given it that fifth star. But in fairness to you, gentle reader, full disclosure of good and bad is required.
Disc quality, both visual and sound (DTS) is first rate; subtitles abound.
I suspect that some Amazon sellers will get the price down in a bit; when that happens, I urge you to snap it up and post your reaction(s) as comments here.
A word about the play. Verdi had read a play by Zacharias Werner in 1808. The author was one of the furthest afield and wilder of the nascent German romantic poet movement. Even more so than Verdi's favorite of that era Frederick Schiller- progenitor of several of Verdi's operas. Werner's characters are the gods of light and darkness, the men, the battles etc of the Nordic Sagas. These will form into the Nibelungenlied that will be the fertile source of Wagner's epics. There is Valhalla, Woton (Wodan, Odin), Fricka, Fria, the Norns and Attila under the name of Ezil. He is sent as a scourge of God against the degenerate cities and peoples. His murderer is a Hildegonde, princess of Burgundy who also kills his young son before stabbing herself. The play is full of killings and destruction and all sorts of other excesses of the German Romantic movement. The plot of Werner's play also attracted other composers also. At the same time that Verdi's Attila was playing in Venice, an Opera by Malipiero based on the same play and calle "Ildegonda di Borgogna" was also playing at another theatre but was not well received. Verdi outsmarted the others here. In the prologue of his Attila he has the refugees of Attila's destruction of the city of Aquileia on the Adriatic Sea land on the islands that will become the city of Venice. In an added twist of this story, it appears that an earlier opera written by Farinelli in 1807 called Attila influenced if not inspired Werner's 1808 play.
The present production is to me unsatisfactory. Why try to cram it into the tiny (300 seats) theatre in Verdi's hometown of Busseto (recorded there October 2010).
It was written for the facilities at La Fenice which is a mid-sized theatre with adequate space for warring armies and choruses. The Busseto stage is barely big enough to set a dinner party for eight. Here the sets are projected and there is no attempt at "theatre". The costumes and makeup are horrid; something out of a grade B sci-fi movies. The only good job in the showing is the orchestra under conductor Andrea Battistoni. They are the stars of the show.
The singers are a mix of excellent and adequate. Here I must confess that I played this disc along with the 1991 DVD of the La Scala "Attila" with Ricardo Muti and starring Samuel Ramey, Giorgio Zancanaro, Cheryl Studer and Kaludi Kaludov.
By far the best opera singer in the present recording is the Ezio of Sebastian Catana; a true Verdi baritone. He sang as a seasoned veteran of many a top opera house. He knew just how to shade his voice to convey what ever meaning was needed. Susanna Brachini certainly has a large voice of good range and could develop into a substantial vocalist. She needs more training and in acting too. Robert De Biasio I know from several recordings. He has a sweet, lyric tenor that he lets wander sometimes but overall a quite good vocalist. The Attila of Giovanni Battista Parodi was adequate but not exciting. In a different role, say of a father figure, a Grand Inquisitor or a sage advisor he would be better cast, but not the leader of a horde of wild men.
Attila is certainly good Verdi, not as exciting as Ernani which I think is his best to this point in his career. His next, however, is a master piece - Macbeth
One other thing is the ridiculous make up of the Huns. They look like some savage tribe escaped from Africa. Perhaps the esteemed designer should have studied Raphael's famed frescos. And that Jurassic Park helmet of Attila? Don't insult the Huns, please. They kept Europe under firm control for nearly 200 years until they were beaten back by a conglomerate of armies at Capernaum (listen to Liszt's Hunnenschlacht symph. poem). Contrary to popular belief, they did not die out. There is a nucleus of people in Transylvania (szekely-s) that traces back their origins to Attila. The Magyars (Hungarians) are a sister nation to the Huns. Sorry for the digression.
My collection includes the 1991 performance with Samuel Ramey and Cheryl Studer and I thought it was time for an update with this blu-ray.
Picture is fine. The background is projected, which makes the small stage brighter and optically larger. I thought that was a good solution for a small stage.
Sound is DTS-HD MA 5.1. Sound stage extents about half to the surrounds. Balance between voices, chorus and orchestra favors the voices a bit. They are coming from the center only. It is a performance with body microphones, so the voices are clear and the overall background noise level is low.
It's a small theater with about 300 seats. I don't think more than 10 musicians will fit in a row, so the orchestra and chorus are on the small side, but the orchestra is quite detailed and the chorus with about 12 male and female singers each is very precise.
Applause is on the weak side and more from the front than the sides.
I give it 4 stars overall for the audio, reserving 5 stars for recordings where the voices move with the singers.
Recording is credited to 4 persons including Paolo Berti and the Delirica Recording Studio (Fano), of which I was very critical in the Mose in Egitto performance. This recording shows that they can do a good job.
As for the performance, I liked it. The projection of the background works for me, the voices are all fine and the acting is a lot better than what was offered in Oberto performed in the same theater. It is still sung mostly to the front, but the principals seem alive and in tune with their roles. I liked the colorful costumes and warrior make-up, too. Singing is very good and the orchestra under a young conductor was fine for me.
Compared to the DVD from 1991, which has Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound: there is no comparison. Sound (and of course picture) in this blu-ray are so much better due to the 20-year progress in recording techniques that not even a Samuel Ramey, a Zancanaro or a Muti matter. The surround sound and the clarity in this recording will make it a fine replacement. I can recommend it.