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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

DVD Review: Attila at La Scala

Stud Muffin: Samuel Ramey bares it as Attila at La Scala.
Screen capture © 1991 La Scala/EMI/RAI Recording
Twenty years ago, the bass Samuel Ramey was assocated with the role of Attila the Hun, whose invasion of Italy is the subject of the Verdi opera that bears his name. This DVD, filmed at La Scala by RAI, is compelling solely for Ramey's magnificent performance as the Scourge of God. With his bellowing bass, raw sexual charisma and that famous bared chest, Ramey dominates the action from the barbarian's arrival onstage to his murder in the final scene.

Written in 1846, Verdi's eighth opera falls squarely in the "galley years", (between Alzira and Macbeth) a decade when the composer was forced to churn out operas quickly in order to meet the demands of theaters all over Italy. Although this is a short opera (just about two hours) Attila towers above its predecessors, with its commanding leading role, stirring choruses and patriotic spirit. When the Roman general Ezio (here played by Giorgio Zancanaro) sings "Take the world, but leave Italy for me", Italian audiences took it as a battle cry.

Ramey is joined by Giorgio Zancanaro and Cheryl Studer, two singers who also starred in La Scala  recordings of Guglielmo Tell and I Vespri Siciliani under the baton of Riccardo Muti. Zancanaro sings with power and magnificent stage presence, enough to make you forget what a rat bastard his character is. Studer is in decline here, with her once fine soprano turning squally as she navigates the high ranges of this difficult role. And while the recently-reissued La Scala CD recording of the opera featured Neil Shicoff as Foresto, this video features the forgettable, wooden tenor of Kudali Kudalov.

This is a personal opera for Riccardo Muti. He chose it as his Met debut this season, and even has a theme from the opera as the ring-tone on his cell phone. Here, his conducting brings out the glories of Verdi's score, the big martial choruses, the ensembles and the remarkable dream sequence where Attila is visited by the spirit of Pope Leo. This is a towering performance on the podium, and one that makes a case for Attila as one of the finest products of Verdi's early period.

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