Riccardo Mutti, who made his house debut in the Met’s current run of Verdi’s Attila, enjoys a reputation as an insightful conductor of Verdi’s operas. I’ve never been able to understand his high standing as a Verdian. His conducting of the master’s works has always seemed to me to be rigid, overly forceful, and lacking in nuance.
His direction of Verdi’s ninth opera has been greeted with swoons and rapture. It’s hard to understand why Mutti chose Attila for his Met debut. Of course, anything by opera’s Shakespeare is of interest to any serious opera goes, but this is one of the Bear of Bussetto’s lesser efforts. I’ve seen the opera live two times – both with Sam Ramey in his prime at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Though it has moments suggestive of the great things that lay before Verdi I have not been much taken with it.
The prologue, however, is three minutes pure beauty. Mutti rushes the fragile piece and in general seems to want to get it over as fast as he can. Compare his reading to that of the late Giuseppe Sinopoli. The latter’s rendition soars where Mutti’s plods. All the beauty of the prologue is realized by Sinopoli. He gives it the space it needs. The prologue under Sinopoli takes 20 seconds longer than the brush off it gets from Mutti. Twenty seconds is a lot in a three minute number. No sense arguing about taste. Both versions are below. Make up your own mind. Mutti does better with the scene where Pope Leo appears than he does with the prelude. This concertato is unalloyed Verdian glory.