Muti makes overdue Met Opera debut with 'Attila'

Send a link to a friend

[February 25, 2010]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Attila the Hun invaded the stage of the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday night, and he brought with him a welcome accomplice: Riccardo Muti, making his long-overdue conducting debut.

HardwareWelcome as well were the terrific cast of singers the company assembled for its first staging of Giuseppe Verdi's 10th opera, "Attila." Led by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role and Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana as his nemesis, Odabella, they all sang with impressive power and style.

Not so kindly received was the production team, which after a promising start seemed to more or less abandon any effort at dramatizing the admittedly implausible plot and settled for what amounted to a glorified concert version, with soloists and chorus mainly facing the audience and declaiming.

But the big news was Muti, at 68 one of the legendary figures in Italian opera and long a champion of Verdi's early works.


To hear him conduct the superb Met orchestra in "Attila" was to revel in moment after glorious moment that reveals the composer's developing genius -- from the somber minor-key prelude, to the delicate arpeggios that depict dawn breaking over the Adriatic lagoons, to the flourishes in the banquet scene that prefigure a similar scene in his next opera, "Macbeth."

Muti seemed to inspire his singers, as well. Abdrazakov sang with great ferocity, as called for in the role of the barbarian invader, but also with smoothness and attention to detail. Urmana tore into her difficult opening aria fearlessly, tossing off tricky scales and coloratura runs with aplomb. She also created some lovely, delicate effects in her later moonlight soliloquy.

Substituting on short notice for an ailing Carlos Alvarez, Italian baritone Giovanni Meoni made an auspicious debut in the role of Ezio, the Roman general. He has a firmly focused, sizable voice with a warm, mellow tone that remains even throughout his range, except at the very top, where it hardens a bit.

Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas did some of his best singing in a long time as Foresto, a knight from the conquered territory of Aquileia. Although he had to press his essentially lyric voice at times, he held his own amid the high-powered company.

Tenor Russell Thomas sang well as the slave Uldino. And in a bit of luxury casting, bass Samuel Ramey, once a great Attila himself, impressively intoned the brief lines of Pope Leo.

[to top of second column]

When the curtain first rose, it looked as if the production team -- fashion designer Miuccia Prada and architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron -- had found an interesting way to set the action, while keeping the singers close to the front of the stage to heighten audibility. The ruined city of Aquileia is represented by a mound of rubble that fills the front of the stage just behind the proscenium. Walkways allow the soloists to make their entrances from above, while the chorus of Attila's followers lies on stage below.

But for the next scene, the rubble rises, leaving a bare stage to depict what should be a magical moment: the refugees arriving on the marshes that will become the city of Venice. The following scene replaces the rubble with a gigantic wild forest that overstays its welcome, lingering for the remainder of the opera, with circular holes or a rectangular space appearing as needed for the soloists. The chorus stays rooted to the front of the stage below the singers.

Making the staging even more static, director Pierre Audi limits the characters' movements to rudimentary stand-and-deliver. At least twice, a character finishes one verse of an aria, turns his back to the audience briefly, then turns around again to sing the second verse.

The costumes, meant to represent fifth-century fashions, are severe and expensive looking, with much use of metal, leather and jewels. Odabella's hair is piled up a bit like Marge Simpson's, except she also has a long braid.

At the curtain call, cheers for Muti and the singers gave way to loud booing for the production. All in all, this "Attila" is an important musical milestone in Met history, but it's perhaps best experienced with ears wide open and eyes shut.


On the Net:

Metropolitan Opera:

[Associated Press; By MIKE SILVERMAN]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor