On opening night, Riccardo Muti received ovations from Met patrons for the music, but the production team was booed.
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“Most opera buffs, if they know Attila at all, would rank it pretty far down the list” of Verdi’s operas, said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. Before witnessing the Met’s revelatory new production, “I would have agreed.” Yet director Pierre Audi and conductor Riccardo Muti have changed my mind. Muti, an “exemplary Verdi conductor” with a predilection for the composer’s undervalued works, draws a “refined, lithe, and stunningly fresh performance from the Met Orchestra.” Together with the impressive cast, led by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as the Hun conqueror and Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana as the vengeful princess Odabella, he makes every moment of Attila a “vibrant and engrossing music drama.”
“Muti makes beautiful music in the pit,” but the rest of this production is a mess, said Martin Bernheimer in the Financial Times. The conductor has handpicked an eclectic and unconventional bunch of theatrical collaborators, including fashion designer Miuccia Prada. Disastrously, though, he’s handed over set design to Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the architectural duo that designed the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the Beijing Olympics. They transform the Met stage into an over-cluttered, split-level mass of “faux-rubble sculptures” and cheesy, overgrown “magic-garden facades” that give the performers no room to move. On opening night, Muti got ovations for the music, while the production team was fittingly booed.
Herzog and de Meuron hardly deserved such a “bewildering” reaction, said Anne Midgette in The Washington Post. The sets may be cluttered, but they’re also clever and visually arresting. Indeed, it’s the singing that’s sometimes subpar. Abdrazakov’s bass at times gets lost “among the foliage.” Urmana struggles in the upper register, though she eventually rises to the challenge of a role that requires “the range of a coloratura singer and the pipes of Ethel Merman.” If anyone deserves boos, it’s the boorish Met patrons, for rejecting a challenging production that’s in fact far “more thoughtful than much of what you see in opera these days.”