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Rink, Chorus conquer with `Attila'

Verdi's ``Attila" is a brawling, lusty opera that got just that kind of performance from music director Jeffrey Rink, Chorus pro Musica, and an uninhibited cast on Sunday.

``Attila" has been deplored for its musical and dramatic crudity; for example, the Hun's warriors cheerfully sing of the pleasure of dining on their conquests' severed limbs and heads. But the piece hurtles forward with an irresistible momentum, and the music's vivid primary colors occasionally give way to subtleties of detail, particularly in the orchestration.

Veteran Boston baritone Robert Honeysucker took the part of the stalwart Roman general Ezio, and not for the first time in this series (and elsewhere) he sang the imported talent right off the stage. His presence and singing had weight and force, and his voice rolled magnificently through the music.

Paula Delligatti, who sang the title role in ``Madama Butterfly" with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1999, has not morphed into the Amazon soprano traditionally associated with the bloodthirsty, sword-wielding Odabella. Her voice remains a lightish lyric soprano with a flicker of vibrato that suggests fragility and vulnerability. But she commands the style and cannily substitutes accent for power, maneuvering through the music's hairpin turns more smoothly than most dramatic sopranos, and without squealing brakes. She also knows how to stand there and flash her eyes like a weapon.

Tenor Benjamin Warschawski sang her beloved, Foresto, with attractive tone and line compromised by constricted top notes. In the title role, bass Stephen West had the right melodramatic instincts and repeatedly went for broke, but his large, shuddery voice now turns on rusty hinges. In smaller parts, tenor Brad Ludwin delivered several messages purposefully, and Athan Mantalos unfurled a youthful but highly promising bass as Pope Leo I.

This was the 11th opera presented by Rink and Chorus pro Musica (10 of them substantially underwritten by Concert Opera Boston).

The chorus has a principal role in this opera, and Verdi wrote especially attractive music for the women. The Chorus pro Musica offered ringing tone and disciplined enthusiasm. The orchestra, full of veterans of Boston's opera wars, played a fiery performance for Rink, who commands all the skills of operatic conducting. Like a conqueror he knows where he wants to go and how to inspire his troops to get there.

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