Herzog & de Meuron at the Met

For those interested in big name designers and obscure early Verdi, be sure to check out and argue over the production of Attila at the Metropolitan Opera. Having made its Met debut on February 23, the opera was brilliantly teased to life by the masterly direction of the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti. The new production by director Pierre Audi with Herzog & de Meuron and Miuccia Prada left many more unconvinced — receiving boos on opening night.

The scenery and costumes understandably disappointed those looking for traditional staging or pageantry. Flattening the stage into a single pictorial plane, Herzog & de Meuron designed two main sets: a pile of reinforced concrete rubble and a lush, tropical wall of vegetation (check out photos on The Architect’s Newspaper blog). Formed as registers and alternating between smaller crumbles of concrete and larger rectangular panels, the opening set was more resonant of an earthquake in Japan than the destruction of classical antiquity. The wall of vegetation, which in subsequent acts opened in slits and circles to reveal Attila’s camp and banquet hall, isolated the singers in a field of lush greenery similar to what one would imagine in Hawaii. The abstracted and direct staging and disconnect to any naturalistic scenery clearly displeased the conservatively minded crowd. However, to this writer’s mind, the sets not only boldly and rather beautifully suggested the effects of Verdi’s stage notes (destruction, forest encampment) but also rawly focused the opera’s characters. Rather than creating a historical tableau based on the opera’s absurd libretto, the production proposed a sparse stage for reflection for each character’s complicated and conflicted emotions (and Verdi’s score). That being said, Prada’s chic and futuristic costumes (think Mad Max in a Viennese cafe circa 2060) proved more odd than supportive of the production. The casualness of the chorus in particular — all tank-tops, tees, and cargo pants — led one to believe you were looking at urbane Belgian gardeners rather than the invading Huns. Sometimes simplicity can distract. The feathers, leather, and jewel-toned dresses and capes of Attila and Odabella, Ezio and Foresto, the opera’s leads, while more successful with their expressionistic sci-fi verve, failed to enhance the opera in any substantive way beyond bemusement. See for yourself at the Met through March 27.
–Nick Anderson, Program Associate