Giuseppe Verdi’s early opera “Attila” can be a difficult pill to swallow. Criticized for lacking a coherent plot (though surely “Il Trovatore” wins that award) and characters with depth, it was a surprising choice for Seattle Opera. And not everyone was pleased. One orchestra member spoke strongly of it, declaring Verdi’s music “a little too much boom-chuck for my liking.”
Even more surprising was Seattle’s decision to stage this late bel canto work about the decline of Rome in a modern day warscape. The opera starts with what I can only describe as unnecessary violence, as camouflaged soldiers summarily execute terrified civilians. This, needless to say, is not in the libretto and I take issue with that. Seattle Opera may be economizing by skimping on lush sets and costumes, but there is no real need to “make up” for it by killing people off.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by this particular performance. By and large the uni-set worked well and the updating to modern times seemed, if not appropriate, then acceptable (though I did wonder why they all carry swords if they have sniper rifles at their disposal).
As the titular character, the ruthless King of the Huns, basso Mika Kares managed to invoke sympathy while singing powerfully (and looking pretty darn handsome, too). Keeping with the modernism of this production, much of Attila’s power was highlighted by various digital projections. The omnipresence of the letter “A” was effective, as were certain digital backdrops, but I found the images a little too distracting. It is difficult to focus on the singing when every few moments the background changes.
As the corrupt Roman general Ezio, Marco Vratogna sang well, though I found his “Italia” somewhat dispassionate (how disappointing, as he hails from Italy). His sometime henchman, the Italian leader Foresto (Russell Thomas) sang with far more aplomb and his rich tenor was a real thrill to listen to. Whatever weaknesses his character has, he managed to transcend them and delivered an excellent performance.
But the real star of the show was soprano Susan Neves as the feisty Italian Odabella. Powerful both in voice and presence, she suited her character perfectly and took the stage by storm. She also helped breathe life into what could have been a flat characterization.
With only four main characters, it is lucky that Verdi keeps the storyline moving along at a good clip. There is certainly never a dull moment, from violent prologue to violent conclusion. I only wish it had been slightly more tasteful.
Click here for library materials related to Attila.
Teen Review by Evan, Northeast Teen Advisor