Saturday, January 14, 2012

Extra credit: listen for the Cimbasso in ATTILA!

Those of you who like to look deep into the orchestra pit from your box seats may spot an unusual instrument at our performances of Attila: the cimbasso, played by Chris Olka, Principal Tuba for Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera (photo of Chris, right, holding the instrument). Up until his final operas, Verdi wrote his lowest brass parts for cimbasso, which tends to blend more seamlessly with the trombones than a tuba. It makes a difference with a score like Attila, which--although chock-full of that toe-tapping, red-blooded Verdian vigor that we love from this composer--is technically a bel canto opera, and requires elegance and beauty in addition to sheer power.

Although many opera companies use a tuba to play Verdi's lowest brass lines, thanks to one of our donors Seattle Opera was able to invest in a cimbasso some years ago, and we're lucky that Chris is an expert with the instrument. In fact, his example has led other companies to follow suit.


  1. Hmm, I thought this was the Ophicleide's job. You learn something new everyday! I guess it depends on the composer's scoring.

  2. Hi, mic1303, thanks for your comment!

    I asked Phil Kelsey, who didn't remember seeing an ophicleide part in an Italian opera score. According to Wikipedia, Verdi did write lines for ophicleide, but that very well may have been in a score (or scores) he wrote for Paris (such as DON CARLOS). Composers like Halevy, Auber, and Berlioz used ophicleide liberally. But Verdi hadn't yet composed for Paris in 1846 when he wrote ATTILA.

    Also, the ophicleide really has not been resurrected the way cimbasso has these last few years.

  3. Thanks for the info!