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Teatro Comunale

In Review Attila lg 416
D’Arcangelo as Verdi’s Attila in Bologna
© Rocco Casaluci

THE SEASON-OPENING PERFORMANCE of Verdi’s Attila at the Teatro Comunale on January 23 proved visually drab but musically vital. The conducting of Michele Mariotti demonstrated how much emotional tension can be generated even by apparently routine accompaniments, which on this occasion acquired a richly inflected, strongly pulsating life of their own, while the more refined instrumental effects were highlighted to singularly evocative effect. The orchestra responded to the music director’s leadership with an alertness and involvement that captured my attention from the first bar of every number and encouraged the singers to engage totally with the words. The volume of the orchestra could seem over-weighted, especially in the cadential phrases of arias, in which the singers were required to perform all the written notes rather than following tradition and dropping out for a few bars in order to summon up the energy for a bold resolution. The acoustics of this historic theater are excellent, but they favor the orchestra at least as much as the stage.

Energy is certainly a prime requirement for the cast of this opera, which is propelled forward by a series of cabalettas that don’t leave much space for character development. The most musically finished singer on this occasion was the young baritone Simone Piazzola as Ezio. His voice was not only firm, focused and smooth in line but capable of an ease in dynamic modulation across a wide range that has rarely been heard from full-bodied baritones of any era. As Attila, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo displayed a more prominent vibrato and was less varied in volume, but his phrasing was ever alert to verbal and rhythmic values, and his medium-sized voice seemed in healthy condition. As an actor, he occupied the stage with authority, if without much expressive detail. The same could be said of Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri, who, as Odabella, pumped the sound out too aggressively in the Prologue but regained composure for the Act I aria, in which she responded sensitively to the beautifully phrased accompaniment. Her soft singing was relatively limpid, and she displayed an easy top, but her chest register is as yet undernourished for such a determined character.

The most ringing voice onstage was that of Fabio Sartori as Foresto. The tenor’s brilliant high notes were admirably integrated into the melodic line and never interfered with the poise of his piano singing. Both arias were satisfying in shape and expressive content, although a hint of tearfulness in his delivery deprived them of some of their virile dignity, and, for the same reason, the recitatives were not so stirring as they should have been. Bass Antonio Di Matteo made an impressive appearance as Leone, and the choral singing was superb as pure sound, if less crisp in diction than on other occasions.

Verdi and his librettists, Solera and Piave, were deeply interested in the specifically historical character of this drama set in medieval Italy and were anxious—for the first production, in Venice in 1846—to lend a degree of authenticity to the characters and setting. Director Daniele Abbado and designer Gianni Carluccio did away with all that, without offering anything plausible in its place. The characters’ costumes spanned the centuries, and the interaction took place in a largely unchanging, grayly metallic setting. As a result, the sketchily drawn characters became decidedly blurred in focus, and none of the theatrical effects devised by the composer came across as strongly as they deserved to: even Odabella’s killing of Attila at the end of the opera appeared tame.  —Stephen Hastings 

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