Stellar cast for ‘Attila’: on the podium the great Daniel Oren, directed by Daniele Abbado. Erwin Schrott, one of the world’s most famous opera singers, makes his debut in the role. The opera from Friday at the Teatro Massimo. Tomorrow the dress rehearsal in favour of Biagio Conte Part “Bambini all’opera”: on Sunday 21 theme workshop in the Sala degli Stemmi

He is a star whose fame goes far beyond the boundaries of opera. One of the most famous opera singers in the world, the bass-baritone Erwin Schrott makes his debut in the role of Attila at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in Verdi’s opera on stage from Friday 19 February (premiere at 8.30 pm). A new production of the Teatro Massimo, Attila, in co-production with the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, directed by Daniele Abbado and featuring the great Daniel Oren on the podium. Odabella is Svetla Vassileva; Foresto is Fabio Sartori; Ezio is Simone Piazzola. Sets and lights by Gianni Carluccio, costumes by Gianni Carluccio and Daniela Cernigliaro. A great cast for an opera that has been missing from Palermo since 1975 and was first performed in Venice on 17 March 1846. Tomorrow, Thursday 18 at 6.30 p.m., the dress rehearsal in favour of the opera by Biagio Conte, the lay missionary who works in Palermo to help the homeless, migrants and the poor.

A Venice, that of the first performance, which at that time, under Hapsburg rule, is shot through with revolutionary ferments in the ambitious dream of a united homeland. Attila is a political opera, as in the spirit and poetics of the great composer: the protagonist is the king of the Huns who has just devastated Aquileia and is preparing to sack Rome. Yet it is also a work of subtle psychological introspection, where the characters move driven by personal considerations and passions. Starting with Attila. A complex character, a foreigner, a barbarian, but a bearer of values, suspended between his desire for glory and his love for the slave Odabella, daughter of the defeated sovereign, who at the end of the work will run away from the wedding ceremony and kill him with the same sword he gave her. A troubled ending, considered by some to be dramaturgically imperfect, the result of the change of hands between Temistocle Solera (Verdi’s historic collaborator, who signed the libretto) and Francesco Maria Piave, who revised the ending, privileging the single parts at the expense of the large choral scenes.

Playing the barbarian king, daring but human and therefore vulnerable, for the first time in his stellar musical career, is Erwin Schrott, the great Uruguayan bass-baritone considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Mozart’s major roles (Don Giovanni, Leporello and Figaro) and acclaimed in theatres all over the world. An absolute star, who – with a disc dedicated to tango – has also experimented with territories far removed from opera. He has triumphed in theatres such as La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Paris Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Los Angeles Opera and many others. “A complex, restless, even insecure and impressionable Attila,” says the artist, “an Attila who ends up succumbing to love. An Attila that requires, from a musical point of view, great technical resources’.

The director is Daniele Abbado, son of the great conductor Claudio. Aware of facing a difficult challenge. ‘A political opera,’ he says, ‘in which we witness a total overturning of the usual categories. What should be the foreigner, the enemy, the barbarian, is instead the man bearer of refined thought. He speaks of the people, of justice, of God, of the soul. While Ezio is a corrupt general who makes an attempt at mutiny, Foresto a weakling who makes intrigues, Odabella a very interesting character, who carries within herself her murdered father. The Italians are the refugees who have lost everything, who escape and think about the foundation of a new civilisation. We are in the years when the Unification of Italy is still to be done. The fact is that the year after the first performance, no less than fifteen theatres staged it, and the public was inflamed with patriotic sentiments. In my staging, there will certainly not be the Huns with horns on their heads that we have seen so often, nor will there be any weapons, apart from Attila’s sword that he hands to Odabella at the beginning of the opera. In the opera, the Romans are ‘regular’ soldiers, while Attila’s soldiers are a little bit terrorists and a little bit mercenaries, but grafted with archaic elements. Not a flat modernisation, but rather a transfiguration, an invention’.

On the podium of the Teatro Massimo is the Israeli conductor Daniel Oren, one of the world’s greatest conductors, who began his career thanks to the great Leonard Bernstein, who in 1968 chose him, at the tender age of thirteen, as the soloist voice in his Chichester’s Psalms for the inauguration of Israel’s television. “Verdi is the greatest composer of all time and Attila is a masterpiece, an absolute masterpiece. For a long time and until the end of the First World War, Verdi’s so-called ‘youth’ operas like this one were neglected, in favour of those of his full maturity. Then a rediscovery began. Attila already speaks of peoples’ rights, the right to a homeland, a home and freedom, a theme that as an Israeli is very dear to me. The musical language speaks with immediacy to the soul and heart of the audience. And the challenge for a conductor is to escape the risk that the orchestra sounds like a band, the challenge is to play with great class, with great nobility, which the Teatro Massimo Orchestra does admirably. What qualities must a conductor have? He must be a great musician, and he must know how to communicate what he has inside to the orchestra. The technique, the gesture, come later’.

Oren, even at an early age, was directed by his mother to a complete musical education with the study not only of piano and cello, but also singing, harmony and counterpoint. He went on to further his studies in Europe, devoting himself almost exclusively to conducting. In 1975, he won the prestigious ‘Herbert von Karajan’ competition for young conductors and was the starting point of his international career. His participation with Nabucco in the inaugural season of the New Israel Opera in December 1994 was a particularly significant moment: this musical event succeeded in bringing together his passion for the world of opera and his love for his homeland. For a musician like Oren, music represents the best vehicle for peace and tolerance. Oren is artistic director of the Teatro Verdi in Salerno, where he conducts many titles during the opera season. He is also a regular guest in Paris, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London as well as in Tel Aviv, Verona, Florence, Madrid, Cologne and Barcelona.

Attila is the second opera of the Teatro Massimo’s 2016 opera season, an opera that comes after the triumphant Götterdämmerung directed by Graham Vick. As Angela Fodale writes in the programme, in Wagner “an individual drama unfolds against a mythical backdrop with powerfully symbolic connotations; in Verdi an individual drama is set in a historical, political and social context, which is never purely decorative, but determines the events and choices of the characters”.

With Attila starts “Bambini all’opera”, the new project of the Teatro Massimo in collaboration with the association Libero Gioco, dedicated to children from 5 to 10 years old, the first in Italy structured by an Opera Foundation for the entire season. On Sunday 21 (5.30 p.m.), while parents, grandparents or uncles attend the performance in the Sala Grande, the children will experience the opera in a playful dimension, in a playful, quiet and protected space. For the children, an aesthetic and creative experience that guides them through the narration of the plot and listening to excerpts from the opera.

The activity is entitled ‘The Courage of Odabella’ and is played on the theme of what is scary, with particular reference to the different and the foreigner (Attila) and the figure of an autonomous and courageous woman (Odabella). For information and bookings 329. 7260846 – 349. 3612353.
And tomorrow at 6 p.m., in the Sala Onu of the Teatro Massimo, a conference to present the opera, organised by the Amici del Teatro Massimo association, by Anna Tedesco, in the presence of the director Abbado. Admission free while places last.