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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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Opera Review: Clinging to the Wreckage

Attila at the Met.
by Paul Pelkonen
Ildar Abdrazakov (Attila) surveys the wreckage.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
The resilience of Verdi's operas, (even his lesser ones) never ceases to amaze.

Take the Metropolitan Opera's current production of Attila, a staging beset with ugly sets, hideous costumes, poor choral placement, bad blocking and difficult scene changes. On Monday night, the cast managed to catch enough of that Verdi magic in the last two acts to bring Attila to a rousing finish.

This ill-conceived staging by Pierre Audi elevates the principal actors well above the stage and orchestra, creating major balance problems in the large house. Even worse, the chorus are relegated to a Nibelheim-like "pit of despair" below the main level of the stage. As the chorus is important in this martial opera, this proved to be a mistake.

Attila (bass Ildar Abdrazakov) appears in a flowing Darth Vader cape and a light-up LED helmet, on top of a pile of rubble, behind a heap of dead bodies. (Did they really have concrete and steel rebar in the Roman Empire?) Later sets, consisting of a gigantic wall of foliage with holes cut in it (leaving the actors 20 feet above the stage) aren't much better.

The hideous costumes (by Miuccia Prada) are bad enough, but the set designs (by the architects Herzog and de Meuron) are an extraordinary waste of money, effort and space. They make little dramatic sense and looked precarious for the actors, who picked their way across concrete rubble or battled walls of foliage that looked to be on loan from the atrium across Columbus Avenue.

The singers almost saved the evening. Mr. Abdrazakov has the makings of a fine Attila, but he lacks the spark of raw sexual energy that Samuel Ramey brought to the part 20 years ago. Mr. Ramey makes a cameo appearance here as Pope Leo, a token gesture undermined by his quavering vibrato.

Violeta Urmana, decked out in a gold lamé wedding gown and a hideous B-52 hairdo, managed to stay (mostly) on pitch despite squally moments in her opening aria but declined as the evening went on. Ramon Vargas sang prettily as Foresto--an unappealing figure out to backstab Attila. He's the Frank Burns of Italy.

The raison d'etre of this whole misconceived enterprise was the first appearances of super-conductor Riccardo Muti on the Met podium. (Attila is Muti's favorite opera.) Unfortunately, Maestro Muti has moved on. Marco Armiliato conducted on Monday night. He brought plenty of slam-bang rhythm but he could not find a balance between orchestra pit, chorus, and singers. Even Abdrazakov was drowned out by the orchestral clamor, and the chorus clearly struggled to be heard.

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