|Michael Honeyman - Natalie Aroyan - Taras Berezhansky- Diego Torre in "Attila".
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi – Libretto
by Francesco Maria Piave
Directed by Davide Livermore –
Revival Director: Kagte Gaul
Conducted by Andrea Battistoni –Set
designed by Gio Forma
Costumes designed by Gianlucca Faschi
– Lighting designed by Antonio Castro.
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney
Opera House Oct. 29th to November 5th.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM
This was always going to be a memorable night. With the sudden decision by long-serving Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini to step down from his position a year earlier than originally advised, Opera Australia announced that the opening night of “Attila” would be his official farewell.
particularly appropriate, because this would be just the third performance of
this massive production since it was forced to close down because of the Covid
pandemic after only two performances in 2020. “Attila” was re-scheduled in the
2021 season, but that whole season was also lost to the pandemic. Therefore the
re-scheduling of this production, which Opera Australia shares with La Scala,
in 2022, was highly anticipated, particularly as the company had been able to
present it with most of the original 2020 cast still intact.
even more appropriate, this cast features soprano Natalie Aroyan repeating her
much lauded break-out performance as the heroine, Odabella. Aroyan has been
steadily cementing her reputation as an outstanding singer, but those two
performances as Odabella in 2020 have catapulted her into being recognised as a
major star in the operatic firmament, and few who were lucky enough to
experience either of those performances would disagree. Aroyan credits Terracini as the guiding force
behind her career.
Aroyan in this production, the great Mexican tenor, Diego Torre, lured to Opera
Australia by Terracini, and now an Australian citizen and audience favourite.
Also repeating his magnificent performance in the title role as Attila, the celebrated
Ukrainian bass-baritone Taras Berezhansky, who would be returning to his family
in war-torn Kyiv immediately after the “Attila” season finishes.
production is also a wonderful showcase for Opera Australia’s chorus, which
Terracini takes pride in describing as one of the best opera choruses in the
world. Marshalling the huge musical resources necessary to mount this
production would be one of Terracini’s favourite conductors in Andrea
expectation was already high when Tahu Matheson, took the stage just before the
opera commenced to acknowledge Lyndon Terracini in the audience in the favoured
seat in the Joan Sutherland Theatre that he had occupied for the countless
performances he has attended during the 13 years of his tenure. Matheson’s
graceful announcement was greeted with enthusiastic applause and cheers from
the audience, many of whom were Terracini’s admirers who wanted to share this
momentous performance with him.
applause died down however, Matheson made another unexpected announcement. The
Italian baritone, Mario Cassi, who was to perform the role of Italian General,
Ezio, had taken ill, and that role would now be performed by Opera Australia
Principal Baritone, Michael Honeyman.
was the opera itself, and the events that had occurred between its first two
Sydney Opera House performances and this performance that made this performance
even more memorable.
Verdi originally set the action for his opera in 5th century Italy,
he had written it as a thinly veiled argument for Italy’s independence from
Austria. But when Director, Davide Livermore decided to update his production
to fascist Italy during the 1930’s, he could hardly have imagined how closely
his production would reflect present day events in Ukraine.
scene in the opera is played out on a massive setting depicting a war-damaged
city. Prisoners are herded on to the
stage and summarily shot by Attila’s army. The murders are interrupted by Attila’s
entrance on his horse, and while he is surveying this scene another group of
female prisoners are herded in. Among them is Odabella, who defies the gunmen
to challenge Attila.
is so realistically staged, that it was shocking in 2020, but now in 2022, it was
impossible not to be reminded of the unintentional similarities to the horrible
events occurring daily in Ukraine.
Later in the
opera there is another disturbing scene depicting Odabella’s childhood
recollections of witnessing her father being murdered by a soldier on
horseback, and the final Fellini-like decadent party scene in which Odabella
reeks her terrible vengeance on Attila, all carefully restaged for this revival
by Kate Gaul.
happenstance, I found myself sitting next to Ukrainian conductor, Vladimir
Fanshil, who, with his opera singer wife, Eleanor Lyons, found themselves
stranded in Australia by Covid. Ashen-faced at interval, Fanshil confided that
Lyons was currently singing in Poland, and while waiting to re-join her, he was
busying himself raising money to support his compatriots in the Ukraine. He was
attending tonight’s performance in support of his friend, Taras Berezhansky.
an opera which requires massive resources both vocally and physically to stage
successfully. It would be hard to think of a more appropriate opera to
illustrate and celebrate Lyndon Terracini’s achievements during his tenure as
Artistic Director of Opera Australia.
course was even more spectacular during this performance having grown in
confidence between the seasons. Together, with Berezhansky, Torre and the
ever-reliable Michael Honeyman, who rose to the occasion to match them every
step of the way, as well as Virgilio
Marino and Richard Anderson in lesser
roles, this was inspired casting that would be the envy of any opera company in the world.
|Richard Anderson - Taras Berezhansky - Natalie Aroyan in "Attila"
Together with the magnificent Opera Australia Chorus and the Opera Australia Orchestra under Andrea Battistoni, it treated its appreciative audience to an unforgettable evening of grand opera at its grandest.
It was a
performance destined to live long in the memories of those who experienced it,
but particularly for Lyndon Terracini, to whom the evening was dedicated, and perhaps
also for Taras Berezhansky, who when taking his bows, draped himself in a
Ukrainian flag; a gesture which earned tumultuous applause from the
An edited version of this review first published in CITY NEWS on 1st November 2022.