Synopsis & images
Ludwig van Beethoven was one composer who had already considered taking Zacharias Werner’s drama Attila, König der Hunnen (1807) as the basis for an opera. Modelling his work on the traditions the ancient world,
Werner had incorporated choruses into it, so it seemed logical to write a score for the successful play. Giuseppe Verdi’s librettist Temistocle Solera fashioned it into a patriotic tale for the 1845/46 carnival season in Venice. The impending revolution of 1848 was already making itself felt: “Take the universe but leave me Italy!” is the compromise suggested by Attila’s adversary Ezio, the Roman-Italian general, amid scenes of jubilation.
The second part of the prologue also makes use of the myth surrounding the foundation of Venice: it is set in the lagoon Rivo Alto, a name which is still found today in the name of the Venetian district “Rialto”.
Attila the Hun, the “Scourge of God”, is overrunning Italy with his campaigns of conquest. Whatever gets in his way he butchers. He has also taken the city of Aquileia and killed its ruler. The latter’s daughter, Odabella, decides to take a stand and put a stop to Attila’s trail of destruction. While the surviving inhabitants escape to the lagoons, unwittingly founding Venice in the process, Odabella sets out to confront Attila at the head of an army of valiant women. He is impressed by her courage and falls in love with her. Odabella pretends to return his feelings. She is determined to free the world of this monster. To do so she takes huge risks: the man she really loves, Foresto,
is initially forced to believe that she is extending the hand of friendship to the murderer of her father. But shortly before the wedding that Attila so much desires she takes the sword he gave her and has her revenge: the allpowerful king of the Huns falls dead, executed by this woman.
As he had already done for Nabucco (1842), Giuseppe Verdi created rousing and immediately accessible choruses, arias and duets with expansive melodies for the bloodthirsty story of the battle between the heathen invaders and Christian Italy under the leadership of Rome. The work is bursting with energy and belongs unmistakably to Verdi’s first successful period. The individual characters of the protagonists are less well defined but full of passion, a circumstance that elicited great enthusiasm when the work was first performed.