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Review: Attila at the Sydney Opera House

Reviewed By Priscilla Issa

Attila is a quintessential take on Italian nationalism with all the tropes of a Verdi epic and all the impressive staging of 19th Century opera. Livermore must have thought: so grand is Verdi’s music already, why not throw a few live horses into the mix? So, in galivants Taras Berezhansky (Attila) singing his first aria on the back of a beautiful black stallion.

In keeping with Italian operatic tradition, the huge voices of Berezhansky, Natalie Aroyan (Odabella), Diego Torre (Foresto) and Simone Pizzola (Ezio) were selected to sing the four leads. Audiences felt transported to La Scala – the home of the most exquisite and sonorous bel canto sounds.

The tale is also grandiose. It is a melodrama. How does one assassinate Attila the Hun? Through love. Attila is initially putty in Odabella’s hands, only to be slain at the climax of the opera.

While the production had all the elements of fine opera, the elements struggled to work well in tandem. The first barrier to a synchronous production was Temistocle Solera’s libretto. The text is unforgiving in its bluntness and leaves little to the spirit. It rams nationalist one-liners into the ears of the audience who are left feeling underwhelmed and desensitised. Kudos to the singers for braving the text and attempting to portray, through some impressive acting, genuine love of country. The opera’s short episodic nature impedes on the drama; there does not appear to be a build up toward the assassination. The first episode came in strong and the last episode left the opera on the same note. Emotions did not seem to go anywhere. This is, again, an issue with the text. While Livermore’s LED backdrops occasionally provided the necessary ebb and flow of emotions (sad to distraught, vengeful to hopeful), overall it did nothing to serve the music and text except to act as stylish filler.

The most exciting performer of the night was Taras Berezhansky. Despite his young age, his instrument is beautiful, lyrical and glossy. With time Berezhansky will develop the robustness and grit necessary for this role, but audiences could not help but to sit back and enjoy the charisma, the colour and potential of this talented artist.

In her debut as Odabella, Natalie Aroyan demonstrated panache in her coloratura and versatility in emotions. Her impressive range, with plenty of spin and excellent control particularly into her chest, was a sensory delight to audiences. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, her acting could do with a little more work. Her Odabella seemed to be less gutturally vengeful and more performative – grandiose gestures and unrealistic ‘love’ for country or her betrothed - which occasionally erred on the side of comical. Despite the acting, if her vocal effortlessness in Oh! Nel fuggente nuvolo is anything to go by, Ms Aroyan will be gracing international stages with Odabella in no time.

A personal favourite was the outstanding, polished and ravishing singing of Diego Torre in his debut as Foresto. The timbre is best tenor I have heard in months on the Opera House stage. The ease of projection, the vocal facility and the continuous column of sound made for a transcendental performance. His performance of Che non avrebbe il misero was a showstopper - with audiences stomping their feet, whistling and cheering at such a masterful execution. More than any other performer on that stage, his performances throbbed with endless emotion and sincerity.

The Opera Australia Chorus were precise, articulate and passionate. Despite their, at times, short stage time they appeared well-drilled and gave it their all. Audiences could sense that Opera Australia Orchestra, led by Andrea Licata, were giving it everything they had, desperately trying to make something out of Verdi’s stagnant accompaniment. Occasionally, glorious moments of desperation followed by momentum shone through.

Image Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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