THE OTHER SIDE
Several singers, more often in their later years or after the end of their careers, have made the leap to “the other side” and tried their hand at stage-directing. Rarer, if we are not mistaken, is the instance of a singer who serves as the director as well as one of the principals in the same production. So, a recent case of the latter has attracted our curiosity: the bass Ildar Abdrazakov signing as director a production of Attila, first performed in his hometown, Ufa and, just before the great COVID lockdown, at the Bolshoi in Moscow.
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Well, we are not, nor claim to be, mind-readers. Obviously, we don’t know why one of the most famous and acclaimed opera singers in the world, probably the best Attila now available, at the very peak of his career, felt the need of staging the opera himself.
There might be any number of reasons, but allow us to reveal a suspicion nagging us from the time we knew about this production, first performed in 2019 and then again in 2020. A suspicion born after seeing the opening night at La Scala on Dec. 7, 2018. Because it’s rather hard to believe how a singer/actor such as Abdrazakov, who made Attila his signature role – in an opera he had mastered for more than a decade and sung with enormous success on any number of stages – would truly enjoy wearing a pseudo-Nazi uniform, inviting his enemy to a party taking place in a brothel-like environment and being killed on a leather office armchair, scurrying all over half the stage on its wheels.
Well, maybe we are downright mistaken suspecting that the La Scala ugly, useless and often meaningless production might have influenced Mr. Abdrazakov’s decision to take the matter in his own hands. Anyway, the fact remains that Mr Abdrazakov did decide to take matters into his own hands and luckily we had the opportunity to see the result on the streaming from Bashkir Opera, and to appreciate a good, a very good Attila.
Generalissimo Attila in duet with Ezio (Scala di Milano, 2018). Soldiers are armed with Kalashnikovs from the 5th century AD. Attila: Ildar Abdrazakov; Ezio: George Petean. Director: Davide Livermore.
We have seen (and still can see, since it’s on YouTube) a production made with professional care, attention to detail and expertly-directed movement of the chorus (often a weak point of less able, or maybe more easily distracted directors, who are liable to end up simply deploying the chorus more or less frozen along the stage).
Especially effective, in our opinion, is the opening scene, depicting the flight of the Italic population from the assault of the Huns, a scene all bathed in suggestive red shades of light, but without distracting from the wonderful, heart-wrenching overture. We usually prefer to enjoy the ouverture with the curtain down, but here the realms of the scenic and musical are, for once, beautifully reconciled.
The scenery is simple, but effectively conveys the opera’s settings of time and place. Interiors are fitted with carpets, furs and cushions, as a Hun king tent should – or as we like to imagine it should… but isn’t opera largely about imagination? Only the “modern” directors like to kill our phantasy, forcing us to see what THEY imagine….
The costumes are varied and absolutely beautiful, the female dresses probably inspired by Bashkir tradition – but wasn’t Attila from those lands? And what a breath of fresh air to see the Roman soldiers dressed as Roman soldiers, escorting Ezio equipped with square shields, armors, helmets, swords and spears, and not with rifles and automatic weapons!
Attila, performed on the stage of Bashkir State Opera and Ballet Theatre. Februari 2020.
All in all, then, an Attila which, although it may not become an “historical” staging – nor was it meant to be – is nonetheless a sensitive, coherent, beautiful and exciting performance, as the audience has the right to expect and enjoy. And to our mind, that is all we can and do ask.
Add on – the essential icing on the cake! – a well-assembled, beyond-excellent cast. Besides Ildar Abdrazakov there was Veronika Dgioeva as Odabella, young baritone Serghey Kaydanov as Ezio – both in role debut – and, last but certainly not least, the Italian tenor Luciano Ganci, who had already sung Foresto, with Abdrazakov in the title role, in the grand opening of the new Astana Opera theatre a few years ago, and then at the Marinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. Finally, a good orchestra.
The result is a totally successful production, a true night at the opera. A night when one can watch, listen, relax and simply enjoy.
Is that not our aim, as an audience, when we set foot in an opera house? And therefore, we must thank and congratulate Ildar Abdrazakov, who was without doubt the “deus ex machina” of that production.