Attila Synopsis In the Prologue, the action takes place in Aquileia and on the Adriatic lagoons; the other acts take place throughout Italy. The time is mid-5th century AD. Prologue Scene One – A square of Aquileia The Huns rejoice in the destruction of the city of Aquileia and hail their victorious king, Attila. Against his master's decree, Uldino, Attila's slave, has saved from death a group of local warrior women. Attila responds favorably to the bravery of their leader, Odabella, and grants her a favor. She requests a sword, and Attila responds by handing her his weapon. The king falls instantly in love with the maiden. Left alone, Attila meets with Ezio, a Roman general. Ezio tells Attila that if they join their forces together, Attila may conquer the universe as long as the king leaves Italy to him. Taken aback by the general's willingness to betray his own people, Attila swears to conquer Ezio and the Romans on the battlefield. Scene Two – A marsh in the Adriatic lagoon Following a night filled with violent storms, hermits pray to God. Refugees fleeing Attila's attack arrive, and one of them, the Aquileian knight Foresto, bemoans the fate of his beloved Odabella. Together, Foresto and his countrymen proclaim that their new homeland with rise like a phoenix from the marsh on which they stand. Act I Scene One – A wood near Attila's camp Looking at the clouds, Odabella thinks she sees the images of her deceased father and Foresto. Foresto enters, disguised as a barbarian, and condemns Odabella for betraying their love. Distraught by this rejection, she explains that like the Biblical Judith she will kill their enemy Attila with his own sword. Odabella and Foresto renew their vow of love. Scene Two – Attila's tent Attila awakes from a restless sleep and cries out for Uldino. The king describes how he saw an old man stop his path to Rome. Regaining his senses, Attila commands the trumpets to sound the call for war. From the distance come voices praising God. An old man, Leone, enters with his followers and tells Attila that his path to Rome is barred. Terrified, the king realizes that Leone's words are the very ones from his dream. After Attila sees bad omens in the sky, he prostrates himself on the ground. Act II Scene One – Ezio's camp Ezio reads a document from the young Roman emperor ordering him to return to Rome since a truce with the Huns has been declared. Recalling its past days of glory, the general laments Rome's current state of decline. A group of slaves invites Ezio to Attila's camp and the general accepts their king's offer. One of the slaves, Foresto in disguise, remains to tell Ezio that Attila will die this very day. The Romans are to be ready for a signal that indicates the opportunity to destroy the invaders. The general rejoices that he will have a chance to fight and, if killed, die a hero. Scene Two – Attila's camp prepared for a solemn feast Attila welcomes Ezio to the banquet that seals the truce between the Huns and Romans. Druids warn Attila that it is fatal to sit with the Roman general, but the king dismisses their prophecy. Suddenly, a strong wind extinguishes the lights in the camp. Though Attila chastises Ezio for suggesting again that they become partners against Rome, he privately admits his spirit is faltering.Rousing himself, Attila orders the festivities to continue. He goes to drink from a cup that Uldino has poisoned, but Odabella, determined that she be the one to slay Attila, saves him. The king furiously demands to know who dared to threaten his life, and Foresto declares that he is responsible. Attila draws his sword to kill him, but Odabella pleads that she be the one to decide the betrayer's fate. Pleased by the maiden's loyalty, Attila hands over Foresto to her and tells his people that he will marry Odabella the next day and then resume warfare. The truce with Rome is over. Act III A wood near Attila's camp On the day of Odabella's marriage to Attila, Foresto tells Uldino that the Roman troops are in the forest, ready to destroy the Huns. Alone, Foresto laments that Odabella has been faithless to him. Ezio hastily enters; the Romans are waiting for the attack. As Foresto is tormented with the thought of his beloved's wedding to Attila, Odabella arrives, seeking to avenge the death of her father. She again tells Foresto that she loves only him. Attila follows Odabella into the forest and discovers the three people who want to destroy him. As sounds of battle come from Attila's camp, Foresto goes to stab his enemy, but Odabella makes the first strike. Dying, Attila cannot believe that the woman he loved has betrayed him. Background By 1846 Verdi had long been a supporter of the nationalist movement seeking Italian independence and unification, and in turn, he and his operas, such as Nabucco, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata, and Ernani, had inspired and inflamed patriotic sentiment in Italians. In a letter to Francesco Maria Piave (with whom he had worked on both Ernani and I due Foscari) Verdi listed a number of possible future projects, and for his ninth opera, Verdi chose number ten on that list, Attila. The story for the libretto was based on Zacharias Werner’s 1809 play Attila, King of the Huns, and the opera was set to have its premiere in Venice. There are several factors that make Attila an apt choice. Scholars believe that Venice was first established by refugees fleeing into the marshes and wetlands to escape Attila and his masterful, mounted warriors. The Venetian Republic then developed to become a major political, financial, and artistic leader, but when Napoleon was defeated in 1815, Austria for the first time occupied Venice. Moreover, in 1846 the Austrian Emperor was also the King of Hungary, and Hungarians considered themselves late descendants of Attila. What could be a better story to rouse Italian public sentiment, than that of early Venetians rising up to defeat and rid the country of Attila and his Hun invaders? A major challenge in researching Attila is that very little about him is known as fact. During his short but remarkable reign as leader of the Huns, he conquered large areas of Central and Eastern Europe and was one of the most feared enemies of the Roman empire. However, the meager sources of existing written biographical information can’t be completely relied on, as they were recorded by the enemies of the Huns. Other fragments of the Huns’ oral history have been passed down through the myths and lore of the neighbors of the Huns — the Scandinavians and Germans. As a result, Attila is a character in Medieval epics, and perhaps most notably he appears as ‘Etzel’ in the Nibelungenlied which Wagner used as one of the sources for his Ring Cycle. This scarcity of known historical fact enabled Verdi and his librettists to mold the story of Attila into a minimally disguised rallying cry for Italian independence from Austria. Their goal was achieved. As witnesses testify, the Italian audiences went wild when Ezio, the Roman General, confronts Attila with: “You will have the universe, let Italy be mine!” Though Verdi had discussed Attila with librettist Francesco Maria Piave, he instead turned to Temistocle Solera with whom he had successfully collaborated on Nabucco and I Lombardi. Solera left the project, first due to illness, and then to pursue his new job as director of the Royal Theater in Madrid, leaving only a draft of the third act. Verdi then returned to Piave to finish the opera, urging him to focus on “Passion, whatever passion, but passion!” What resulted is an opera unique in Verdi’s canon. While he created many memorable bass characters, this is his only opera that features a bass in the title role. Attila’s nightmare scene in Act One is a tour de force, and the sonorous sound of the low voice lends gravitas, power, and menace to his character. Noteworthy too, is Verdi’s treatment of the soprano role, Odabella. In most other Verdi operas of this period, when the soprano first appears on the stage she usually sings a pensive recitative followed by a slow aria. With her first notes, Odabella, the warrior princess, defiantly confronts Attila declaring in a thrilling, challenging, two octave vocal flourish that she is able to fight for her Italian homeland because of her “boundless, holy love of country!” This is also Verdi’s only opera that sets all of the scenes outdoors, which afforded the composer abundant opportunity to utilize his full palate of orchestral colors. An example is the extended storm and sunrise music of the Prologue, as well as the beautiful moonlit scene for Odabella’s Act One aria, where she mourns the loss of her beloved father, accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful sounds of English horn, flute, cello, and harp. Ultimately it matters not whether the story is factual. Through Verdi’s genius in creating believable characters and moving stories, as he has gifted us with a unique, stirring work of emotional intensity, musical richness, and patriotic fervor.