Verdi’s early operas may be uneven, but they maintain an energy and dramatic momentum that carry them along. Attila (1846) is one of the best, an ambiguous tale presenting the impact of the notorious warlord as he conquers northern Italy and confronts Rome itself; the Roman general Ezio attempts to do a deal with him, while the staunch Italian patriots Odabella and her lover Foresto plot against him in a way that may be pragmatic but which leaves Attila looking a good deal more noble than either of them.
Filmed in 2010, this Mariinsky production by the Mexican-born, German-based director Arturo Gama is traditional in approach, though the mottled browns of Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s costumes (neither the Huns nor the Italian refugees are snappy dressers) make for unlovely visuals; but he tells the story clearly and draws solid acting performances from all the principals.
Vocally they’re consistently impressive. Ildar Abdrazakov bestrides the stage like a colossus and sings with firmness and grandeur, though the fine Verdian baritone of Vladislav Sulimsky offers a keen challenge as Ezio. Anna Markarova is vocally and dramatically fearless as Odabella, launching herself confidently at the demanding writing with which Verdi characterises this warrior-maiden – his nearest approach to a Valkyrie-like figure. Sergey Skorokhodov’s hefty tenor makes him an effective Foresto, while Timur Abdikeyev threatens divine punishment as Leone – a character who represents Pope Leo I, who for censorship reasons could not be named on the Italian stage in the 1840s. Valery Gergiev marshals his Mariinsky forces with vigour.