By Jackson Holtz
Seattle Opera’s “Attila” is a tour-de-force of mostly wonderful singing.
The production, new to Seattle and rarely performed, was enjoyable and fresh despite some flaws.
Verdi’s early opera is robust with one show-stopping aria after the next.
Known as a technically challenging score to sing, Venezuelan soprano Ana Lucrecia Garcia, Italian tenor Antonello Palombi and Italian baritone Marco Vratogna were brilliant during Saturday’s opening night.
American bass-baritone John Relyea, a Seattle favorite, sang the lead role with heroic courage and, only at the very end, did he come to embody the ferocious monster, the “scourge of God.”
Verdi’s gift for blending voices, especially the tenor and the soprano, is classic opera at its very best – musically.
Garcia’s stunning aria in the first act, the harp gently playing behind her, was first rate. Gorgeous.
Melanie Taylor Burgess, a Seattle costume designer, created a contemporary design to try to bring the story of the Hun’s invasion of Italy boldly into today’s times.
While the costumes were visually terrific, the effect didn’t quite work. If the idea was to have the audience summon the image of today’s ruthless leaders, like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the juxtaposition of the opera’s romance and anachronistic story were too much to suspend the disbelief that “Attila” is an icon akin to today’s despots.
Verdi’s “Attila,” while cruel and greedy, sustains values of courage and dedication. The dimension and humanness to the character is part of what keeps the audience engaged. It is near impossible to assume that the real Khadafi, bin Laden, al-Assad, Kim Jun Il, maintained anything but a fierce grip on power – at all costs.
Seattle Opera’s heavy reliance on computerized digital imagery also seemed out-of-place. At times the displayed imagery did enhance the sets. I kept wondering, though, what would Verdi think? How would this have looked in his day?
The opera’s story, which Verdi wrote as a thinly veiled effort to promote Italian nationalism, felt more goofy than meaningful, offering few deeper insights into the human spirit.
This is an opera to go and enjoy for the way Verdi featuerd the beautiful instrument gifted to singers. For that, “Attila” succeeds without a doubt.
Beyond that, “Attila” is entertaining spectacle.
Seattle Opera reaches high to produce works across the spectrum and bring noted singers from around the world. While I’m not eager to see “Attila” again, I can’t wait to hear many of the singers when they return to McCaw Hall in other roles.
“Attila” continues for five more performances through Jan . 28. More information and tickets at www.seattleopera.org.