That saddens me as I love Verdi and Samuel Ramey, I like Maria Guleghina and while I am not a big fan of Carlo Guelfi he has done some performances I've liked. Attila is not one of Verdi's best, but of his early operas it leans towards the better end of the spectrum(Macbeth and Luisa Miller for me are the best of that period). And it is not as if there are no good productions of Attila, while not 100% perfect I loved the 1991 La Scala production, also with Ramey in better voice and with a much more consistent cast and sense of drama.
What did I like about this production? I can never criticise the score, not one of Verdi's most tuneful but still with some fine moments, the most memorable for me has always been Ezio's E Gettata La Mia Sorte. Other than the music, the best asset about this Opera Bastille production is the performance of Samuel Ramey. His voice has seen better days sure, in the 70s all the way through to the 90s it was dark and sumptuous but it was around now where it developed a wobble. Despite that, there is enough of that lovely sound that makes me love him, and dramatically he is suitably authoritative in the title role.
Sadly for Ramey, he is the only cast member to really convince. Of the cast, who ranged from moderate to not worth mentioning, Carlo Guelfi is the least bad. His acting is rather basic, which is true of most of the cast, but the voice is rich and commanding for E Gettata La Mia Sorte, far less of the dry quality that I've heard in recent years. I was however disappointed in Maria Guleghina, coming from someone who loved her compelling and forcefully sung Turandot and Lady Macbeth I was expecting the same sort of standard for her Odabella, but her singing is here often flat and lacks control with a wobbly and almost shouty quality to it, and overall it could have been a much more subtle interpretation.
Lacklustre also are Mihajlo Arsenski and Igor Matioukhine, who can do nothing with the roles of Uldino and Leone. But while Guleghina was the biggest disappointment, the weak link of the cast was the Forresto of Franco Farina, who for me was a disaster. Dramatically he is very stolid and not engaged at all in the drama or to anything around him, and I just don't care for his voice, finding it overall dry and very pinched even in the high register. The orchestral playing is well balanced and very beautifully played, but let down by Pinchas Steinberg's pedestrian conducting.
Even worse are the production values and staging. The production values are very unappealing, with the stage patterned peculiarly in zebra stripes and the video projections adding nothing to what was going on. The costumes were odd to me, either garish or unflattering. Ramey seems to be dressed up as the King of Siam from King and I, and this is the umpteenth and I hope last time I've seen Guleghina in a costume that doesn't do anything for her figure. As for the staging, more often than not it is incredibly static. The chorus sound pretty good, but are made to stand still and completely un-animated. The drama is really empty and entirely unmoving, most of the cast's acting reads of hands on heart, outstretched arms, standing next to the prompter's box and not taking your eyes off it and just not engaging with the drama or text at all. Farina is the worst, and of the cast Ramey is the only one who looks completely commanding though Guelfi has his moments too.
Overall, a failure. 3/10 Bethany Cox
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