One of Giuseppe Verdi's lesser-performed operas, Attila lacks the hummable songs that have brought his better-known operas into popular culture. His complicated characters are ever-present, however, and his grand melodies support those characters with a commanding presence, especially when a large chorus takes up more than half the stage. Verdi definitely knew how to use the chorus. And in San Francisco Opera's Teatro alla Scala co-production, the singers, both leads and chorus, ultimately give Attila the power it needs to succeed - Although a great deal of the production's success owes its existence to the visually stunning scenery on display behind the strong vocals on display.
Attila the Hun, conqueror and king, prepares to defeat Rome. Meanwhile, he has granted a favor to a brave captive, Odabella, who asks for a sword and privately swears to avenge her father's death at Attila's hand with that very same sword. She prepares to leave her true love, Foresto, behind to marry the barbarian and sacrifice everything for revenge. Foresto and other outside forces have plans of their own, and even Attila's trusted warrior, Uldino, joins the scheming.
In San Francisco Opera's production, Attila's story unfolds in front of three ruined theaters from different time periods, a striking scenic design by Alessandro Camera that features incredibly realistic cloud projections, sails blowing in the "wind" and an old movie theater playing scenes from a black and white Attila film. Camera designed the sets as commentary on the architectural violence done to historical buildings, but audiences not from Italy will only understand this if they take the time to read their program. Reading the program articles and interviews will give viewers extra insight into the remarkable story at play on stage, as well. Part of the Resorgimento movement to create a unified ItAly Made up of Italians, Verdi's Attila served as a motivator for patriotism and gives audiences an idea of why so many eagerly once cried out, "Viva VERDI!"
The spirit of Viva Verdi lives on at the War Memorial Opera House, where celebrated Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto gives a captivating performance as the surprisingly only consistent and honest character, Attila the Hun. Furlanetto gives the only consistent performance as an actor, too. He takes his listeners deep into the soul of his character.
Supporting singers remain stiff in their characters' pride, showing little emotion, but each produces the convicting and pervading vocals necessary to give the opera its grand momentum. Lucrecia Garcia makes an unforgettable San Francisco Opera debut in the role of Odabella, which she has sung for La Scala and Seattle Opera. Tenors Diego Torre (Foresto) and Nathaniel Peake (Uldino) give solid performances, and Quinn Kelsey (Ezio, a Roman leader) matches the mighty Attila with strength and courage evident in his voice, as well as his expressions. Samuel Ramey, who sang the opera's title role in San Francisco's 1991 production, also gives a memorable cameo as the pope who stops Attila from attacking Rome.
Each of these factors – a passionate conductor (Nicola Luisotti), chilling chorus, captivating stars, and engaging, albeit somewhat confusing, scenery – leaves a resilient impact on the audience, who is too caught up in the overwhelming grandness of the opera and its creative forces to notice or dwell on the few faults San Francisco Opera's production contains.
San Francisco Opera
Saturday, June 23 at 8 p.m.
Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 1 at 2 p.m.