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Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, Themistocles Solera
Sofia Opera and Ballet
Tsarvets Fortress, Velico, Tarnovic, Bulgaria

The cast of Attila Credit: Sofia Opera and Ballet

Giuseppe Verdi was seriously ill and on the edge of a breakdown when he was composing Attila. The opera, based on the play Attila, King of the Huns by Zacharias Werner, premièred in 1846 at La Fenice in Venice. The music is brash and energetic.

The patriotism, nationalism and the hymn to Venice went down well with an audience who longed for independence from Austria; but the critics didn’t like the libretto. “The critics may say what they like,” said Verdi, "but I say what a wonderful libretto for music.”

Attila (c406–503), the scourge of God, devastated all the countries between the Black Sea and Mediterranean. “Screams, plunder, moans, bloodshed, rape, destruction, slaughter and fire are Attila’s sport,” sings the chorus. (Outside of opera, he has been played on film by Anthony Quinn and Jack Palance in the 1950s.)

Plamen Kartaloff’s modern-dress production, conducted by Alessandro Sanglorgi for Sofia Opera, was performed at Tsarvets Fortress, Velico, Tarnovic, Bulgaria in 2011. The venue, lit in fiery red and filled with smoke, proves to be more exciting than the production.

Orlin Anastassov is Attila and he has a great duet with Ezio (Ventseslav Anastassov), a Roman general, who offers him the whole world if he will leave Italy to him—an offer he can and does refuse.

Odabella (Rodastina Nickolaeva) is spokesperson for tough Italian women. “Our bosoms are girt in steel,” she declares, likening herself to Judith in the Bible who murdered Holofernes by driving a tent peg through his head. Attila admires her courage and wants to marry her. She saves him from being poisoned; but only because she personally wants to kill him on their wedding day with the sword, he gave her as a present.

Daniel Damyanov, as Foresto the knight, who loves Odabella and is ready to war against the Barbarians, has some rousing arias. Orlin Anastasov has his big scene when Attila recounts a terrible dream he had and then finds the dream is reality. “You can only scourge those who are mortal,” says the Pope. “This is the land of God.”

The critics have always thought the opera third-rate Verdi; but there is still much to be enjoyed in third-rate Verdi, and not least in two ensembles: the first, the finale to act one, and the second, a dramatic climax to a banquet.

PS. Verdi’s history is fiction. The real Attila was not assassinated. He died of a heart attack after having sex.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch