Quinn Kelsey

Baritone Quinn Kelsey in Lyric’s presentation of highlights from Verdi’s “Attila."

Lyric Opera of Chicago released its latest free video on Sunday afternoon, a splendid collection of excerpts from Verdi’s “Attila” featuring four soloists, members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, and two pianists.

This offering falls well short of a full opera performance — there are no sets or costumes and the entire performance lasts less than an hour. Yet the singing is very good, sometimes rising to the level of greatness. The story is filled in throughout the video by Enrique Mazzola, the man who will replace Sir Andrew Davis as Lyric’s music director. Mazzola provides a zesty enthusiasm for the opera that draws you in, and each excerpt pulls you deeper into the story.

Verdi’s opera begins just after Attila and his forces have destroyed the Italian city of Aquileia. Attila is confronted by Odabella, a leader of women who have survived the attack. Her boldness impresses Attila and he gives her his sword. Attila then meets with Roman envoy Ezio, who proposes that Attila take whatever he likes but leaves Italy alone. Attila calls him a traitor to his country and rejects the bargain. One of the survivors of the attack on Aquileia is Foresto, who loves Odabella. He worries about her safety in the hands of the Hun. Attila has a dream of approaching Rome and meeting an old man at the gate of the city who warns him to turn back. Later, Ezio and Foresto join forces to fight Attila, and Foresto learns Attila intends to marry Odabella. But she joins Ezio and Foresto, and proclaims that she loves only Foresto. When Attila finds these three together plotting, he knows Odabella not only never loved him but is a terrible danger to him. His realization comes too late, as she kills Attila with the very sword he gave her as a gift.

Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sings the title role with style. He has an attractive voice, if not a truly huge one, and establishes Attila as a man with a mission. After Attila’s dream about being warned off invading Rome, Van Horn sings with chilling effect, “my soul is filled with terror.” His sound would be fully rounded out if he added just a bit more darkness.

Providing luscious sound as Odabella is soprano Tamara Wilson. Her voice commands attention — she knows when to deploy fierceness and when to caress the music. Tenor Matthew Polenzani brings a nobility of approach to Foresto. He is convincing as a lover and a fighter and has a beautifully easy, unforced sound even in Verdi’s more difficult passages.

Ezio is brought to life by baritone Quinn Kelsey, who brings heft and breadth. His singing has subtle colors as well as power and fire. And he is a man with personality and stage presence to spare.

Members of the Lyric Opera Chorus sang in a presentation that had each singer in his or her own camera-shot with a Lyric curtain behind them. The results were marvelous. The men were crisp and pert, the women sweet and enticing. 

Lyric’s William C. Billingham and Jerad Mosbey accompany the singers in a two-piano arrangement of the score. The video opens with the two of them performing the prologue and offering lots of muscle and grit all imbued with fantastic energy.

This fine introduction to “Attila” is free. Visit lyric.org or Lyric’s YouTube channel to see for yourself.

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