Verdi’s Attila in Cagliari

Attila is a typical piece from Verdi’s early-middle period with rousing melodic drive and a potentially interesting theme arising from the conflict between late Imperial Christian Rome and the invading pagan Barbarians. With their insistent forward-thrusting movement, the arias need some nuancing in rhythm and phrasing if they are not to appear formulaic. Such qualities were not apparent in the performance conducted by Donato Renzetti in Cagliari; rather he pushed forward in large sweeping gestures. Taking their cue from him, most of the soloists belted out the notes in an almost incessant forte, which no doubt was exciting and certainly pleased the audience but became tedious by the end of the evening. Marco Spotti in the title role was a welcome exception. His more introverted portrayal involved dramatic reflection matched by softer musical utterances, pointed phrasing and vocal colouring.

Were there compensations for the musical shortcomings in the production directed by Enrico Stinchelli and designed by Salvatore Russo? Well; it was certainly a sumptuous show, the stage being filled with a large chorus and extras, including dancers, massive structures and a multitude of projected images and interesting lighting effects. But the totality was somewhat claustrophobic: as with the music, one yearned for under-statement and simplicity. Moreover, the principal characters and their actions were not well integrated into all the hustle and bustle. It was as though the production had been created around them as they stood and delivered their bravura singing. And if, as the curtain descended, one had been challenged to identify the theme of the musical drama, it would not have been easy to provide an answer.  This was a case of the wood being lost among the trees.