By the time Attila– Verdi’s ninth opera – premiered in Venice in 1846 the Maestro had under his belt no less than four unqualified successes. With Nabucco, I Lombardi, Ernani and I due Foscari Verdi had proved to be “the” master for writing for a new kind of singer: big voiced, full of stamina, able to sing with both agility and sustained gravitas, and most important to the composer, be ever attentive to what he came to call la parola scenica.

It is immensely rewarding to listen to the splendidly chosen cast jointly assembled by the Teatro Massimo di Palermo, the Teatro La Fenice (birthplace of Attila), RAI, and the Teatro Communale di Bologna. The artists, orchestra and their maestro, Michele Mariotti were brought together to record this DVR in 2006, and the fruit of their labors has just been released by Cmajor 748708 nicely packaged and accompanied by a multi-lingual booklet with program notes.

Attila is an opera about love in a time of war: love of another, love of country – even if the country is not yet a country but Aquileia, a region of what would become Italy after being subjected to endless invasions by barbarians, with Attila, the scourge of God, the most fearsome and fearless of all.

The chieftain of the Huns acquiesces to no one, living by his own code of honor. The Roman general Ezio comes bearing an offer of peace encapsulated in the line “Avrai tu l’universo, Resti l’Italia a mé!” (“You get the Universe, Leave Italy to me!”) but Attila dismisses him with complete disdain. Only the fear of a Christian God he neither knows nor worships keeps him away from the gates of Rome.

The plot is convoluted, with ambiguous motivations and ostensibly not top drawer in its libretto, half-written by Antonio Solera and completed by Francesco Piave. But Verdi’s genius makes the damned thing work with its music: great concertato finales, terrific duets for all the principals, and formidable arias.

In this recording Verdi is greatly aided by a very fine cast led by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo in the title role. The Italian bass cuts a handsome figure, acts with subtlety, and sings with passion and a rock-solid Verdian sound.

Simone Piazzola delivers a terrific Dagl’immortali vertici and its ensuing cabaletta, singing throughout with a darkly dramatic baritone sound perfectly suited to the role of the Roman general Ezio.

The Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri is a force of nature, singing with no pulled punches and acting with fire and brimstone the treacherous part of Odabella.

Fabio Sartori makes the most of the ungrateful role of Foresto, nicely singing his Che non  avrebbe il misero. The supporting roles of Uldino and Leone are both well sung and capably acted by tenor Gianluca Floris and bass Antonio Di Mateo respectively.

Michele Mariotti leads the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Communale di Bologna with absolute command of the Verdian style and with elegant pliability.

The stage direction by Daniele Abbado is assured and unharmed by the production designers, who set Verdi’s 5th century Italy in a modern time and place that mixes men in fatigues with vestal virgins bearing tree branches.

Oh well.

Rafael de Acha