On his triumphal march through Italy, Attila, King of the Huns, sweeps through villages and towns, including Aquileia. While the surviving inhabitants flee to the sanctuary of the lagoons – founding Venice along the way – Odabella, the daughter of the overthrown ruler, fights back. Impressed by her bravery, Attila falls in love with her. For her part, Odabella feigns an attachment to her father’s murderer, while secretly plotting revenge. With the help of the Roman general and imperial envoy Ezio, her lover Foresto intends to murder the King of the Huns by giving him a poisoned drink. However, Odabella thwarts Foresto plan, believing that only she has the right to take vengeance. Belonging to his early career, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera »Attila« is bursting with life and energy. In particular, Odabella’s opening aria as a »bellicose, strutting Amazon with a highly dramatic and virtuosic vocal part« reveals from the outset the dramatic intensity with which Verdi paints his characters. The complex and brilliant historical canvas – essentially a battle between the pagan Huns and Christian Italy – scintillates with its rousing heroic-military choruses, even more spectacular than those in »Nabucco« (1842). The opera is based on the romantic tragedy » Attila, König der Hunnen« (1808) by the great German playwright of the Romantic period, Zacharias Werner. Another composer drawn to this story was Ludwig van Beethoven, who even toyed with the idea of creating his own musical version. Verdi collaborated with both Temistocle Solera and Francesco Maria Piave on the libretto. Initially scheduled for the Venetian carnival season in January 1846, the date for the premiere had to be postponed by two months when the composer fell seriously ill. Dresden audiences now have the chance to enjoy »Attila« in this concert performance, conducted by Verdi-specialist Jordi Bernàcer.
The Hun warriors celebrate their leader Attila, who overruns the Roman Empire in a triumphant march. Despite Attila’s orders that no one is to be permitted to live, his aide Uldino leads in a group of captive women. Attila is so fascinated by the undaunted Odabella that he gives her his own sword. Odabella, the daughter of the fallen ruler of Aquileia, swears to avenge her father’s death. Although the Roman general Ezio arrives as the emperor’s alleged negotiator, he is in fact acting in his own interest. He offers Attila a pact: he will support him in conquering the rest of the world if he will give him Italy in return. Repulsed, Attila declines the offer. The survivors from the Sack of Aquileia succeed in saving themselves as they make it ashore. Led by Odabella’s fiancé Foresto, they decide to build a new home in the lagoon.
Odabella has fled into the forest to finally be able to mourn her father. Suddenly her fiancé appears and accuses her of giving herself to the conqueror Attila. However, she is able to convince him that she does want revenge on Attila. Attila is startled by a nightmare: a mysterious power has forced him to halt his march on Rome. But he won’t let himself be intimidated. Just before he and his troops arrive at Rome, Pope Leo blocks his way. He announces that Attila has fulfilled his task as »scourge of God«, but Rome, the city of God, is denied to him. Terrified, Attila recognizes the words of his dream and breaks off the conquest.
The Emperor has summoned Ezio back to Rome, but the ambitious commander defies the order. Foresto submits his plan to Ezio: after poisoning Attila at the banquet celebrating the armistice, Ezio and his troops will destroy the leaderless Huns. Ezio is enthusiastic. When Ezio appears at the banquet, Attila is warned. Nevertheless, Attila reaches for the drink of reconciliation, but Odabella intervenes. She declares that the drink is poisoned. Foresto claims responsibility for the attack and is stunned that his fiancée has betrayed him. She explains to him that she wants to kill Attila herself. She then pleads to Attila for the life of the assassin. The grateful king grants her wish and announces that he wants to marry her the next day.
The forthcoming marriage to Attila has finally convinced Foresto of Odabella’s unfaithfulness. Wedding songs can be heard in the distance as Ezio and his troops await the attack. Tormented by the spirit of her murdered father, Odabella has rushed away. Again she affirms to Foresto her desire for revenge and her love for him. Attila has followed his bride and catches the conspirators. While the noise of the Roman attack can be heard in the background, Foresto tries to stab the Hun king. But Odabella is quicker, and kills Attila with his own sword.