Singing through a cold and hauling around a beehive the size of Texas on her head, Violeta Urmana tackled Odabella with care and thoughtfulness. She approached the higher passages a little too carefully however, ultimately screaming a few of the high notes just to get them out. Her best singing was done when left to her own devices in the middle of a bare stage with nothing to worry about except the magnificent musical line Verdi so skillfully interwove with the militaristically rhythmic orchestration.
Ezio was handled decently by Giovanni Meoni who was the first singer to get real sound out to the audience. He had a nice resonant voice, but at times pushed so much to be heard, air infiltrated into his sound. He showed no emotion and, therefore, was merely a walking clothes rack finding his spot and standing there until the director told him to move elsewhere.
Foresto is one of those under-appreciated roles because it’s not the title character and the part does not stand out at all, until now. Stepping in for a sick Ramon Vargas and actually stealing the spotlight, Russell Thomas was by far the surprise audience favorite. He opened his mouth with a wonderfully pleasant tenor sound and actually brought a youthful vitality to this otherwise dull production. He sang his high notes with that annoying hook-and-sing tenor trick – “ah-ee.” Although this tends to make the voice ugly, it was not horrible and, thankfully, the high notes were infrequent.
Making a much anticipated cameo appearance as Pope Leone, Samuel Ramey was sonorous and commanding, showing the audience the authoritative stage presence and vocal capabilities and proving that giants still walk among us. He simply stepped on stage and he owned the entire evening – proving that he is still the most famous Attila in history and that the infamous Hun will not be awarded so easily to just any boring basso that tries to claim it.
Eduardo Valdes filled in as Uldino, Attila’s confidant. He was a little awkward in the part and made for laughs when he was thrown around by the soprano.
The man of the evening was, without a doubt, Maestro Riccardo Muti. He dwarfed all of the disastrous aspects of this production. Making you forget about the circus onstage, he led the chorus and orchestra with vim and vigor, bringing out the most gloriously rich sounds imaginable. His fortitude provided the audience with something to actually enjoy and gave the performers a rock to lean on when everything else seemed so shaky – thereby saving this production and the Met’s assets. Essentially, Muti is, the master and it showed with every flourish of the baton.