“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.
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.