A square in Aquilea.
Around the middle of the 5th century,Attila, king of the Huns, has conquered and laid waste to Aquilea. At dawn, the warrior general appears on a chariot among the ruins of the burnt city, acclaimed by his hordes (Introduction: “Urli, rapine”). Having noticed a group of Italian virgins who have taken up arms to defend themselves, Attila asks them to explain their courage. Odabella, daughter of the lord of Aquilea, replies proudly that they are spurred “by love of our country” (scena and cavatina “Allor che i forti corrono”). Admiring her valour, Attila offers her a favour: and since Odabella asks for a sword, he hands her his. The young woman exults, in the knowledge that with that same weapon she may one day strike the oppressor. Attila feels attracted by Odabella and gives orders for her to remain, with the other women, in his camp. He then receives the Roman general Ezio, who proposes an agreement with the enemy to share Italy. But his proposition is disdained (duet “Tardo per gli anni e tremulo”).
Rio Alto in the the Adriatic lagoons.
Hermits emerge from their huts, recalling the sad night and praying to the Lord. From ships anchored in the lagoon fugitives from Aquilea disembark, led by the young knight Foresto. He addresses his thoughts to his beloved Odabella, whom he knows to be a prisoner (scena and cavatina “Ella in poter del barbaro!”). The chorus exhorts hope.
A wood near Attila’s camp.
The Huns are by now outside Rome, getting ready for the conquest and sack of the city. It is night;Odabella is alone and can at last give vent to her sorrow. In the clouds she believes she can make out images of her father and of her beloved Foresto (scena and romanza “Oh! nel fuggente nuvolo”). Foresto suddenly appears, in barbarian clothes, and accuses Odabella of conniving with the enemy. But the girl defends herself and informs him of her plans for revenge (scena and duet “Sì, quell’io son, ravvisami”). Attila’s tent. A dream disturbs Attila’s sleep: he is about to conquer Rome, when a ghostly old man commands him to turn back, in respect for a sacred place (scena and aria “Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima”). After recovering from his fright, Attila summons his warrior commanders and orders them to prepare at once for the sack of Rome. But the trumpet peals are echoed by distant voices singing a sacred song.
From a hill descends a procession led by Leo, whom Attila recognises as the ghost of his dream. On hearing the old man’s words,Attila, to everyone’s astonishment, is seized with terror (first finale).
The Emperor Valentinian has ordered Ezio to arrange a truce with the Huns. Ezio reads scornfully the orders received from Rome, and yearns for his country’s insurrection (scena and aria “Dagli immortali vertici”). A group of Attila’s slaves appear, with an invitation to the Roman general to go to the barbarians’ camp. Ezio accepts.One of the slaves stays behind and reveals his identity as Foresto. He confides to Ezio that Attila isabout to be slain and asks him, at an agreed signal, to fall upon the enemy camp. Ezio exults at the approach of this decisive moment.
The Roman officers led by Ezio, who comes with new proposals of alliance, make their entry into Attila’s festively adorned camp. The king of the Huns is seated next to Odabella. While the high priestesses sing a cheerful song, a puff of wind extinguishes the torches. Everybody is afraid. Foresto indicates to Odabella the cup of poisoned wine intended for Attila, but she replies that the barbarian shall die by her own sword. The torches are lighted again and Odabella stops Attila, who is about to drink from the cup, thereby revealing her treason. Foresto steps forward and accuses himself of the attempted poisoning. Odabella claims the traitor for herself. Attila is impressed by the young woman’s gesture and declares that he will marry her tomorrow. Odabella urges Foresto to escape, while the Huns incite their leader to resume their massacres (second finale).
A wood dividing Attila’s camp from Ezio’s.
Foresto hears that Attila and Odabella are about to be married. He tells the Roman troops to prepare for an attack on the enemy camp. Left alone, he mourns his lost love (scena and romanza “Che non avrebbe il misero”). Ezio arrives from the Roman camp, ready for the assault. Odabella also appears, having fled the Huns’ camp, and implores Foresto to believe her (trio “Te sol, te sol quest’anima”). But Attila, who has pursued Odabella and sees her among the enemy, understands her real intentions and reproaches her with ingratitude (final quartet “Tu, rea donna, già schiava”). The Romans in the meantime attack the Huns’ camp. Forestorushes forward to strike Attila, but Odabella stops him and personally stabs the barbarian leader to death, thus avenging her father and her people.
Synopsis by Claudio Toscani, translation by Rodney Stringer