Markarova; Abdrazakov, Skorokhodov, Sulimsky; Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus, Gergiev. Production: Gama. Mariinsky MAR0538 (Blu-ray) or MAR0534 (DVD). 106 mins., subtitled
Having flexed its international muscles on CD with Wagner, Donizetti and Massenet, the Mariinsky's eponymous label makes its opera debut on DVD and Blu-ray with another mainstream Western composer, Verdi. Attila has, over the past half-century, become one of the most frequently staged of Verdi's once-neglected "galley" operas, and it's easy to see why: happily terse and hummably tuneful, it offers a quartet of ambitious singers ample chance to strut their vocal and histrionic stuff. The foursome at hand does so handsomely. Ildar Abdrazakov is Samuel Ramey's clear and legitimate heir as the world's leading Attila — as the Met's production of February 2010 demonstrated, when the younger bass's Attila faced off against Ramey's admonitory Leone.
The performance captured here, ten months later, shows Abdrazakov offering a lean, focused, burnt-umber tone and no-nonsense vocal manner that Ramey might well endorse; freed from the Met production's designed-to-death visuals, Abdrazakov is even more fully in command; all that's missing from his Attila is Ramey's unique, suavely feral charisma. Abdrazakov's three nemeses here don't enjoy much name recognition in the West, but they're all worth watching. Round-faced, sloe-eyed Anna Markarova (Odabella) had just graduated to the main company from Mariinsky's academy earlier that year, and her repertoire now runs a wide gamut, from Rosina to Cio-Cio-San to Ariadne to Lady Macbeth. The big, vibrant, steel-sheathed tone is exciting, and Markarova's enthusiasm is infectious, but her lack of polish is cause for concern: anyone expecting a Sutherland-like brilliance in her prologue scena or a Caballé-like delicacy in her Act I romanza will feel shortchanged, but both are enjoyable enough by normal standards.
Likewise, don't anticipate a rousing Cappuccilli-like high B-flat to cap Ezio's cabaletta, although Vladislav Sulimsky has the right Verdian weight and style and acts his role with aplomb. Tenor Sergei Skorokhodov — a young veteran of six performances at the Met, where he sang various tiny roles in The Nose — has a lovely, Italianate voice with a fine ring, but his technique and musicianship leave room for improvement. Conductor Valery Gergiev, too, favors excitement over suppleness and finesse: the wonderful last-act trio sounds square and blunt, but the allegro brillante of Odabella and Foresto's Act I duet (climaxed with a hearty D-flat from Markarova) makes for a thrilling ride.
Director Arturo Gama lets the action unfold unimpeded within Frank Philipp Schlössmann's attractive angled arches; a former protégé of Harry Kupfer, Gama shows no strong Regie leanings here. I wish that nature, and supernature — so important to the composer — enjoyed greater presence; the big, torch-extinguishing gust of wind in the Act II finale is lamely handled. For the most part, the opera simply happens, which is no bad thing. If you enjoy Verdi's Attila, you should like this well-recorded, well-filmed version from the Mariinsky.
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