VERDI: Attila (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Cast: Ildar Abdrazakov (Attila)/Vladislav Sulimsky (Ezio)/ Anna Markarova (Odabella)/ Sergei Skorokhodov (Foresto)/ Mikhail Makarov (Uldino)/ Timur Abdikeyev (Leone)
Performers: Mariinsky Orch./ Valery Gergiev
Director: Arturo Gama
Studio: Mariinsky BD MAR0538 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Russian
No Region Code
Length: 106:31
Rating: **** 

We are still waiting for a definitive state of the art production of Attila, Verdi’s romantic opus based on Attila, King of the Huns by Zacharias Werner. This hyper-passionate play captured the composer’s imagination, though he went through two librettists–Francesco Maria Piave, with whom he had worked before, and Temistocle Solera, whom he dumped before returning to Piave. Solera emphasized the Venetian patriotic aspects of the production (it was the second opera the composer wrote for that city), and Verdi was not quite convinced with either of these men as his own ideas about opera were in constant flux and moving far ahead of his writers.

As a “grand opera” the work perhaps skirts the boundaries of the definition as there are no choruses and similar scenes that one usually thinks as constituting the genre. But the feeling and “bigness” of the style are certainly there, and this must be counted as a transitional work in the composer’s output. Its premiere was widely appreciated by the public at-large, though critics were, well, critical. After about mid-century the work seems to have disappeared in Italy, and was only “rediscovered” around mid-century a hundred years later. Samuel Ramey made it a signature role, and his performance with Muti (on DVD) must be regarded as the best available in video at this point.

This new production, which has some oddly-pronounced Italian, is nevertheless very good primarily because of Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, a two-time Grammy winner (in Verdi), and in possession of a smooth, powerful, and extremely versatile voice that seems perfect for this. He also has a physical presence that is quite overwhelming. He alone really carries this well-deigned production, and even though he lacks a truly strong female presence in Anna Markarova (who doesn’t seem quite ready for the role), the strength of the performance, along with Gergiev’s very sympathetic conducting and the outstanding sets, make this a fine video production that should satisfy all but the most perfectionist of Verdi listeners.

—Steven Ritter