Cher Public

Z to A

“Trove Thursday” celebrates its second anniversary with “the A List”—all four operas this month begin with A. Most will immediately think of Verdi but we’ve had plenty of that work recently so instead today’s offering is an electric performance of his early potboiler Attila conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli with Nicolai Ghiaurov, Piero Cappuccilli and the weirdly exciting (or is it the other way around?) Mara Zampieri

The Met didn’t get around to this 1846 opera until 2010, the occasion of Riccardo Muti’s debut (and apparently only appearances there) in Pierre Audi’s widely loathed production. Perhaps Muti’s presence made the opera seem less a star-bass vehicle, as one mostly remembers Samuel Ramey’s bare-chested Hun storming many of the world’s opera houses for decades.

Boris Christoff, Jerome Hines, Ruggero Raimondi, Justino Diaz, and Ferruccio Furlanetto among many others have also embraced the title role. I used to have an earlier Ghiaurov-Cappuccilli Attila on reel-to-reel featuring them both in a bit better voice but it’s alas disappeared. It featured a more appealing tenor (Veriano Luchetti) but a far less arresting Odabella (Rita Orlandi-Malaspina, who died in April at 79).

As in that earlier La Scala performance Cappuccilli astonishes here with an interpolated high B-flat at the end of his cabeletta driving the frenzied Viennese audience to demand an encore which he happily provides. I was lucky enough to hear him in two of his four appearances in New York—as Barnaba in La Gioconda and in a shockingly under-rehearsed but still thrilling all-Verdi concert, both with a brazen Ghena Dimitrova at full cry.

As you can hear, Zampieri was a great favorite in Vienna where she sang more than 150 performances of seventeen leading roles. Her fearless, vibratoless singing has its fervent fans but one can instantly hear from her opening “Santo di patria” why she was one of the more controversial sopranos of her time. I believe her US career consisted of just four performances of Nabucco in San Francisco and one of Mercadante’s Il Giuramento with Opera Orchestra of New York.

She was famously dismissed before her Met debut in Don Carlo after the dress rehearsal, but she prospered in Europe eventually winning acclaim in German roles like Salome and Senta.

Her La Scala career was far less wide-ranging… just four Verdi roles, including replacing Shirley Verrett in Un Ballo in Maschera after she was viciously booed on the first night, and Minnie in La Fanciulla del West which was both recorded and videotaped. She has returned there however in recent years as Annina in La Traviata and Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana.

This performance of Attila marked Sinopoli’s debut at the Staatsoper. He would go on to conduct new productions there of Manon Lescaut, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Macbeth, the last of course with Zampieri. He died at the age of 54 in 2001 while conducting a performance of Aïda at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.

Verdi: Attila
Vienna Staatsoper
21 December 1980

Odabella: Mara Zampieri
Attila: Nicolai Ghiaurov
Ezio: Piero Cappuccilli
Foresto: Piero Visconti

Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli

Next week, another A-opera, but those still yearning for Aïda should check out the Washington National Opera’s production which opens Saturday and features Tamara Wilson, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Yonghoon Lee and Gordon Hawkins.

To further mark its second anniversary, this month a reminder will appear here of three notable past “Trove Thursday” podcasts:

A glowing Beverly Sills dazzles as Handel’s Semele.

Ursula Schröder-Feinen’s searing, awe-inspiring Elektra faces down Astrid Varnay’s scary mom until brother José van Dam can finish her off.

A complete live Follies by Stephen Sondheim features its superb original cast.

Attila can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Last week’s Mattila-fest and nearly 90 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes  or via any RSS reader.


  • Camille

    What a treasure indeed! Can’t wait to hear Mara in this role as I so esteem her scary-as-shit Lady Macbeth, a masterclass in how to do it right, no one sings a better nor more accurate brindisi than she.

    And I have GOT to hear his interpolated high Bb! Usually they’ll chance it as high as an Ab and that’s it!

    Just last night I was recalling La Zampa’s vibratoless Minnie in La Fanciulla. The singing was not any good and invariably watch that video with the sound OFF, but what a great characterization she created of the wallflower who got left sitting through the dance. Interesting artist if not always aurally gratifying, putting it mildly.

    Very happy to hear beloved Maestro Sinopoli again as well!

    Happy anniversary to The Trove, so aptly named, and many, many more as these offerings are always unusual and of individual comparative rarity. Long live Il Pirata dei Dischi!

  • Magpie

    I like this for all the wrong reasons. She sounds like a poser -- her mezzo di voce sometimes sounds like she has no placement whatsoever, just using a regular speaking voice. She also phrases in a way that tells me “I know I can’t sing this but you are gonna like me anyway”. Then there were so many low notes that were flat. I am surprised how flat she is (or is it my system?) and the high notes seemed all sharp, and her entrance is just pure drag. Then she floats some long arches so wonderfully! And Angst!!
    I hear vibrato though…though it comes and goes ….weird, definitely weird. I guess I like her. Nice company while I finish preparations for Irma.

    • Camille

      Rong for all the Rite Reasons!

      This opera is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. If you’re looking for relevant MusikDrama, steer clear but if you are out for a roller coaster ride then hop on.

      I couldn’t believe the uprising after Cappuccilli’s Bb--and if anything, the second one was even better.

      Attila was March 1846, almost one year to the day in March 1847, Macbeth, which was a quantumnleap forward.

      Grimoaldo, get your earphones on and give this one a listen! This Solera libretto is so archaic and arcane I’m gonna have to find a translation.

      • Magpie

        You piqued my interest and just finished hearing up a few clips of Zampieri’s Lady Macbeth. You are right,, she is simply wonderful. I find her vocal production weird; the coloratura perfectly assured upwards and then weirdly flat. downwards. Her acid rather ugly voice has heavenly dynamic shadings. Out of equilibrium? The vibrato heavy/light voice switching adds to the cunningly-calculated-while-a-demented wreck i always felt the character to be. I am loving it!!

        • Camille

          oh good! I don’t know that her voice really works anywhere else, as I’ve not gone on an extensive tour of her performances, but that Lady Macbeth is something else, from what I recall now. Particularly, how she differentiates the brindisi! That is a FEAT! Most of them are so concerned about the staccati, and the trills and all that, the change in the second verse never even enters the picture.

          She may also be heard to good effect as la voce della diva in the Fellini movie “E la nave va…”, from 1984, I think. That was her heyday. I wonder what the Salome was like???? EEEEEKKK!!!! Don’t know if I have the courage.

          Anyway, I figure die Wiener like her because they are accustomed to listening to the Knabenchor, who would have nary a vibrato amongst them. The uprising after Cappuccilli’s cabaletta, however, made me feel as if it were Scala!!!

          • Damianjb1

            There’s a Macbeth DVD from Berlin that’s definitely worth a look with Zampieri and Sinopoli

      • grimoaldo2

        ‘Grimoaldo, get your earphones on and give this one a listen! ‘
        Doing that right now! I truly luuve this opera, ROH did it quite often in the 90’s to early 2000’s, I remember Raimondi and Ramey as Attila, Elizabeth Connell and Maria Guleghina as Odabella, the great Giorgio Zancanaro as Ezio. Yees indeedy, my kind of stuff.

  • grimoaldo2

    “those still yearning for Aïda should check out the Washington National Opera’s production which opens Saturday and features Tamara Wilson, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Yonghoon Lee and Gordon Hawkins.”

    Yes I am really looking forward to that (not going on Saturday though).
    And thanks for this Atilla, terrific. How sad it was to lose Sinopoli so prematurely.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Whoa. Attila never made an impression on me before. Fantastic performance.

  • grimoaldo2

    A treasure indeed! I don’t remember hearing a crowd go quite that nuts as they do for Cappuccilli’s cabaletta, although we did cheer a lot back then, I “brava”-ed myself hoarse many times for Valerie Masterson and Dame Gwyneth around that time.
    Thanks again for posting this fabulous performance, really made my day!

  • simonelvladtepes
  • Daniel Swick

    I’ll just drop this very strange little bon bon right here…

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      Oh dear.

    • CCorwinNYC

      Yes, Janowitz sang Odabella in Attila at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. There was a new production in 1971 with van Dam, Wixell and Tagliavini (Franco) conducted by Patane (of which a recording exists). I’ve also heard there’s a recording of another performance a few years later again with van Dam but another baritone, tenor and conductor.