Lyric drama in three acts with prologue.
Libretto: T.Solera and F.Piave based on the tragedy by Z.Werner.
Time and place: 452-453, Italy: Aquileia, Rome
“Attila”, one of the earliest operas by Verdi, can be called a “scenic rarity”, and every experience of its production undoubtedly becomes an event. The opera embodies historical events of the 5th century, where the Roman Empire was subjected to powerful attacks of the mighty nomadic tribes who came from Asia and called themselves Huns. Name of the king Attila caused fear and terror among the peoples of the Roman Empire. Having conquered many European tribes, Attila began to dream of the conquest of Rome. The young emperor Valentinian III was inexperienced in matters of state. General Aetius, known as the last shield of Rome, became the real adversary to Attila.
The plot of the story stirred many European writers who were interested in these characters. One of the striking works is a tragedy by Friedrich Ludwig Zacharias Werner “Attila, King of the Huns,” written in 1808. The works of Werner, the founder of a new genre called “tragedy of fate”, were noted for their vivid theatrical effects and historical figures. Werner’s creations enjoyed wide popularity among the German public, Goethe himself supported him, and so “Attila” was immediately staged in different theatres in Germany.
Verdi became acquainted with the play in 1844, and, carried away, by his own words found in the tragedy “things that are gorgeous and very impressive”, great choruses and “three excellent characters.” Namely, Attila – a character that “does not allow for any changes”; Idelgonda – historical Ildiko, who then gained an Italian name Odabella in the opera; Aetius – “he’s magnificent and I like him in a duet with Attila, when he offers to divide the world between the two of them … Would have to come up with an effective fourth character”. In Verdi’s opinion, that might be Idelgondy’s fianc? Walter, who likewise was later renamed with an Italian name Foresto. The scene with Pope Leo on the Aventine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, while there is a battle at the bottom made a tremendous impression on the composer. The early death of Aetius did not suit him also: he had to take part in the conspiracy against Attila together with the heroine and her fianc? (as a result, in accordance with history, Aetius remains alive until the death of Attila in the opera). Everything interested the composer: the era, the setting, and the historical figures. He even asked a sculptor whom he had known to send him a sketch of Attila’s costume at the fresco by Raphael and specify the colors of the garments, paying special attention to the headdress.
As a librettist for “Attila” Verdi chose Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876), with whom he became acquainted while working on “Ernani.” Later, Temistocle Solera (1815 – 1878), author of poems, novels, and even operas, whom Verdi valued for the knowledge of the theatre, has continued the work on the libretto.
Extensive crowd scenes, finals (quintets with the choir), spectacular arias, energetic, oftentimes march style rhythms, catchy melodies, not very pronouced psychological depth and subtlety – these are the characteristic features of the opera.
The premiere of the opera “Attila” was held on March 17, 1846 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. According to Verdi, “Attila”: “It has been generally good. … My friends tend to think this is the best opera I have ever written. The public is debating. I say that “Attila” is not weaker than my previous operas, but only time will tell.” The opera was staged in major world theatres and still remains in the repertoire: Arena di Verona, Verona (1985); Grand Opera, Paris (2001); Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, Modena (2007); Teatro Segura, Lima (2009); Metropolitan Opera, New York (2010); La Scala, Milan (1991, 2011), the Mariinsky theatre, St. Petersburg (2010, 2013), etc.