Giuseppe Verdi's "Attila" was first staged just prior to the European revolutions of 1848. To operagoers, art seemed to mirror life, as the Roman Empire, overrun with barbarians, was an obvious symbol of 19th-century Italy under foreign domination. The role of Attila, one of Verdi's finest characters, requires a tremendous leading singer and actor, and world-renowned bass Samuel Ramey gives a peerless performance. As the courageous maiden who kills the tyrant with his own sword, soprano Cheryl Studer is forceful, but with vocal gentleness and expression. In this vibrant, sumptuous La Scala production conducted by Riccardo Muti, "Attila" emerges in all its dramatic and musical greatness.
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A brilliant production has been lavished on this relatively early and seldom-produced Verdi masterpiece. The story of various efforts (ultimately successful) to assassinate Attila the Hun after his conquest of Rome inspired Verdi to compose music of considerable energy. The theme of foreign powers who dominate Italy being punished was especially close to his heart. La Scala assembled a cast equal to his music's strenuous demands. The star, unquestionably, is Samuel Ramey in the title role, but he is supported by a first-class cast and a chorus and orchestra who are completely at home in this music. The fact that some of the less familiar Italian operas reached the DVD format so early in its existence is a tribute to Muti's devotion to unjustly neglected works. So is the power and precision of this performance. --Joe McLellan
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