San Francisco Opera will present Verdi’s Attila this June starring superstar bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. Co-produced with Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and directed by Gabriele Lavia, the new production is unusual and distinctive because it is set in three different periods of Italy’s history: ancient Rome circa 450 AD; the Viennese occupation of the early 1800’s; and the present day. Our Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducted the production in Milan and will conduct it here in June. He has this to say about the production:
Verdi’s opera Attila is very important for Italian people because at the time it was composed we were experiencing the Risorgimento—the period in our history that resulted in our finally being free from Austrian rule. Verdi was a powerful symbol of Italian cultural and national unity, and his music inspired the Italian people to see themselves as living in a free country. Attila is an Opera full of fire and, even today, the Italian people feel in their bodies the energy of that historical moment. [Above: Act I of Attila. Photo by Brescia-Armisano/Teatro alla Scala]
We created this production at La Scala during the 150th anniversary of the Unità d’Italia and we are very proud to co-produce it with SF Opera, an opera company—and a city—with strong Italian roots. Attila is the enemy of everyone because he represents the barbarian attitude of each period of history to destroy what people worked hard to build for the future of their nations and cultures. The deep message of Verdi is that we are here to fight against all who try to destroy our cultures, our lives and the freedom of our people; and the Music, with all its power, drives all of us on this wonderful, miraculous trip.
Our production first depicts the historical Attila, the barbarian marauder from Asia who invades Roman Italy in the mid–5th century. The setting is a destroyed Roman theater. In the second act Attila is an Austrian general and the setting is a destroyed Italian opera house. The third act takes place in a modern cinema in Rome and Attila is portrayed as a contemporary politician. The idea is that Barbarians are always at the gate (sometimes even inside the gate!) and that if they gain power, the culture and artistic expression of the captive state are under threat. Personal and artistic freedoms are closely intertwined. [Above: Act II of Attila. Photo by Brescia-Armisano/Teatro alla Scala]
The American people will enjoy this opera first of all for the incredible impact that this Music has. In Verdi’s time, Attila had a huge success and Verdi became very popular thanks to this extraordinary masterwork. Of course, now we know that Verdi wrote so many beautiful operas, and we would like to hear all of his operas in the same night! Unfortunately this is impossible and, waiting for other amazing work by Verdi in future seasons, we will enjoy this Attila with a stunning cast that will give the audience an unexpected energy throughout the night.
Lucrecia Garcia was the Odabella in the second cast and we went through a very good period of rehearsal together. Well, as happens many times in the world of opera, the soprano from the first cast didn’t feel well on opening night and Lucrecia stepped into the role. At the end of the first famous cabaletta “Santo di patria,” the audience behind me literally exploded! All the tension of the premiere disappeared thanks to this incredible start and I felt as though it was the night of the original premiere in 1846! What an emotion, what a night. Immediately I called my friend David Gockley at SF Opera and I said to him: “We must have Garcia as Odabella!!!” Well, we are very lucky to be able to hear such a wonderful voice in this almost impossible role to sing, and in such a stellar cast! Furlanetto, Sartori, Kelsey, Ramey as Pope Leo!! Well, I think we couldn’t ask for more. [Above: Act III of Attila. Photo by Brescia-Armisano/Teatro alla Scala]