Verdi: Attila

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Orfeo Wiener Staatsoper Live
WORKS: Attila
PERFORMER: Nicolai Ghiaurov, Piero Cappuccilli, Mara Zampieri, Piero Visconti; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/ Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: C 601 032 I ADD
Much of Verdi’s ninth opera (the one just before Macbeth) is formulaic blood-and-guts melodrama, fuelled by violently accented rum-ti-tum accompaniments and applause-gathering vocal pyrotechnics. The composer was seriously ill at the time and his librettist ran off to Spain without bothering to supply the final act. It could have been the disaster – or the predictable bore – that some commentators still insist it is. But given intelligent staging, superb singers and impassioned, stylish conducting, Attila will never fail.

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Its luck on disc holds with Orfeo’s first official release of a live 1980 performance which did much to accelerate Sinopoli’s then fledgling career as a conductor. Early Verdi was always one of his greatest strengths – taut rhythmic control and variety, care for dynamics and balance, attentive but unindulgent accompanying. Mara Zampieri is a first-class vocal actress with a sufficiently fearsome technique for the Amazonian revenger Odabella who tricks and assassinates Attila. Piero Cappuccilli plays Ezio, the Roman general whose famous offer to the rampaging Attila (‘you can have the universe, but leave Italy to me’) soon had patriotic 1840s audiences on their feet. He’s on blistering form (the Act II cabaletta is actually encored), as is Ghiaurov in the title role: their Prologue duet is given with enough brio to make you forget its four-squaredness. The lesser-known Piero Visconti spins a true Verdian line as the obligatory tenor lover who also gets to found Venice.

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The sound has an acceptable dynamic range for a remastered 20-year-old radio broadcast – but naturally retains a very live theatre feel. Some will be disturbed by the audible stage clumps and pit retuning during the lengthy post-number applause retained here. The stiffly translated trilingual booklet note soon bores with its untiring promotion of the performance. There’s thrilling singing and playing here, but the equally exciting Muti (and his bel canto cast) is a safer audiophile bet. Mike Ashman