Gluck: Ezio Double CD
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Alan Curtis, described by the New York Times as 'one of the great scholar-musicians of recent times', conducts a brilliant cast including Sonia Prina, Ann Hallenberg, Max-Emanuel Cencic and Topi Lehtipuu in the original, 1750 version of Gluck s Ezio, described by Curtis as 'from a dramatic point of view, perhaps the finest of Gluck s pre-Orfeo operas'.
Christoph Willibald Gluck is celebrated today as a great reformer of opera. His most famous work, Orfeo ed Euridice, was the first of a clutch of radical operas that took the form in a more naturalistic direction with lasting influence on its future development.
Ezio is not one of those works. Written in 1750 (more than a decade before Orfeo) it is one of many ‘pre-reform’ operas for which Gluck was justly renown in his time, and which are now largely overlooked in favour of his subsequent trailblazers. This is a shame because they contain a wealth of delightful music.
Ezio sticks to the then well-established opera seria model – a series of solo da capo arias which showcase star singers in flamboyant flights of virtuosic display and emotional reflection. As dramatic spectacles, modern audiences would no doubt find these operas unremittingly dull, each aria being merely a vehicle for characters to convey their reaction to the latest plot development by stepping out of the ‘action’ – which only advances in continuo-accompanied recitative. That is not a problem with an audio recording, however, which offers a welcome chance to revel in the richness of Gluck’s refined gallant style – especially when the cast is as good as this.
Contralto Sonia Prina is superb in the title role (the General of Caesar’s armies, originally written for a male castrato) – velvety-voiced in her lugubrious aria at the start of Act 1, fiery and intense in the quick-fire "Se fedele mi brama". Fulvia, in love with and loved by Ezio, is sung with passion and sensitivity by contralto Ann Hallenberg. Her final-scene aria, believing Ezio to be dead, is one of the most affecting moments. Undignified though the figure of Emperor Valentiniano III is – he has unwelcome designs on Fulvia himself – it is impossible not to be won over by the sumptuously lyrical countertenor voice of Max Emanuel Cencic. Topi Lehtipuu, Mayuko Karasawa and Julian Pregardien complete the strong line-up of soloists.
Ezio is similar in outline to Handel’s many operas – so it has strong advocates in veteran Handelian Alan Curtis and his Il Complesso Barocco ensemble. They present a committed and nimble account, recorded at and after a public performance in France in 2008, which makes a highly persuasive case for Gluck’s neglected operas.
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Top Customer Reviews
Alan Curtis choosed once again the cast very carefully, the great Sonia Prina was vocally spectacular and immensely moving in the title role, a Royal warm timbre with an unmatched vocal coloratura, Prina's dark and strongly focussed tone, the perfect diction, agility and precision is well-suited to this military hero.
Ann Hallenberg always singing with great musicianship and expressiveness.
Topi Lehtipuu adds superb musicality and emotional intensity in a demanding role.
Cencic was quite a surprise for me, not the biggest fan of his style.
The Soloist who in my opinion disappoints is Mayuko Karasawa ( kermes was unavailable ? Invernizzi ? Piau ? Cangemi ? ) it's a minor role but the problems of intonation were just too obvious.
Curtis and Prina a partnership for many years !
Alan Curtis provides well controlled energetic accompaniments even if the voices, as recorded here, are a little too forward in relation to the orchestra. This, together with the aforementioned cast offender, would be my reasons for withholding a fifth star. But generally the reasons for acquiring it far outweigh its drawbacks especially at this price. Indeed, each of the arias is musically substantial enough to stand as a set piece in its own right and I fail to see why this opera has suffered such neglect. This being a Metastasio libretto, one can make direct comparisons with the same text settings Mozart used in two of his arias, namely 'Va, dal furor portata' and 'Misera, dove son... Ah! non son io che parlo'.Read more ›
Ezio is based around the historical characters of Aetius (Ezio), the 5th century general who stopped Attila's advance, and the emperor Valentinian III (Valentiniano), and actual intrigues involving these and the senator Maximus (Massimo). The chronology of events in the opera is however somewhat confused compared to the reality, and, ironically for a plot which revolves around Ezio's steadfast loyalty to Valentiniano in the face of being falsely implicated in a plot to kill the emperor, ignores the fact that Aetius in fact died by Valentinian III's own hand!
Gluck took the same Metastasio libretto as did Handel for his Ezio of 1732. Handel had cut down the libretto significantly, and the notes to that recording suggest that the slightly confusing result led to that work's lack of popularity with opera-goers. This shorter Gluck work for me is wanting, both musically and dramatically, when set aside a Handel or a Vivaldi.
It's rescued in this recording somewhat however by the cast, including dependable and solid performers contralto Sonia Prina (Ezio), mezzo Ann Hallenberg (Fulvia, daughter of Massimo), tenor Topi Lehtipuu (Massimo) and then of course the gorgeously voiced countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic as Valentiniano.
The two discs come packaged in cardboard sleeves, in a hinged cardboard box with booklet provided notes, synopsis, libretto and translation (English, French, German).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Nooo, it's not the Red Priest, though Vivaldi would have had no cause to be ashamed of this masterwork. And unless you're a topnotch conductor or musicologist, your guess isn't half bad. The opera is "Ezio" by the great ITALIAN composer Christoph Willibald Gluck!
Huh? Wasn't Gluck a Bavarian? And isn't he famous chiefly for reforming the conventions and excesses of Italian opera seria with his compositions "Orfeo ed Euridice" and "Alceste" in Vienna in the 1760s? Yes, that's the standard narrative, and if the only works you've heard by Gluck are those two plus some of his later French operas, you needn't apologize for being surprised by "Ezio," which was composed in 1750 and premiered in Prague. It's Italianate to its toes. The Italian libretto is by Pietro Metastasio, the very poet whose texts had dominated opera stages since the 1720s and the artificer against whom Gluck's reforms were supposedly directed. Except for one trio at the end of act two and one full cast ensemble at the finale, "Ezio" is composed entirely of recitativos and solo da capo arias, most of them seven or more minutes long. The arias are as florid as any by Handel or Vinci, with astoundingly flamboyant embellishments and cadenzas on the reprises ... exactly the sort of star-power castrato virtuosity that Gluck denounced. The orchestra is there to showcase the singers, whose earnings no doubt exceeded the composer's comfortably. Here's the paradox: Gluck, the reformer and prophet of "classical" opera, wrote very fine Italian Baroque.
Except for the mandatory "fine lieto" - happy ending - Ezio is one of Metastasio's most affective dramas. The six characters are based on Roman historical figures of the 5th C: the general Flavius Aetius (Ezio), the emperor Valentinian III, the traitorous patrician Petronius Maximus, plus Valentinian's sister Onoria, Massimo's daughter Fulvia, and Ezio's loyal friend Varro. Ezio and Fulvia are pledged as lovers, but Valentinian wants to wed Fulvia, Onoria wants Ezio, and Massimo wants to kill Valentinian and blame Ezio. But the plot is less convoluted than those of many Baroque operas, and the character portrayals are subtler and more complex. It's the variety and the psychological aptness of the arias assigned to each character that make this opera particularly stage-worthy. "Ezio" had previously been set, by the way, by both Porpora and Handel.
The noble Ezio is sung by contralto Sonia Prina, one of the brightest stars of our operatic era. She's perhaps too diminutive to sing this "trousers" role on stage -- though she did so in 2008 -- but her vocal timbres are more convincingly "masculine" in this recording than most countertenors could produce. Hers is a gorgeous voice trained to perfection in Baroque vocal technique. The countertenor of this cast is Max Emanuel Cencic, in the role of Valentiniano. Handel, I'm sure, would have given us at least one duet between sung compelling artists, but Gluck was too "traditional."
Two delightful surprises! Mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg sings Fulvia and sounds better than I've ever heard her before. More secure. More even across her full range. Tenor Topi Lehtipuu, better known for roles in Wagner, sings the role of the villainous Massimo, whose nine-minute aria at the close of Act One is the sweetest, suavest, loveliest piece in the opera. Lehtipuu has immaculate HIPP technique! Superb breath control and phrasing! Incredible flexibility and agility! On top of gorgeous timbres! Why would a guy who can sing Baroque bel canto so superlatively waste his time on Wagner? ;-)
A lot of the credit for the polish of this performance must be due to conductor/scholar Alan Curtis, with his ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. Curtis is a rehearsal perfectionist, as the results demonstrate. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Curtis had a strong hand in the "improvisation" of the embellishments and cadenzas of this recording. Obviously they were prepared and practiced, and their aesthetic unity implies Curtis's supervision. If Gluck was justified, in his later period in Vienna and Paris, in complaining about the overheated vocal pyrotechnics of his divos and divas, all he really needed was an authoritarian conductor like Alan Curtis. Il Complesso Barocco is a magniloquent prsence on this recording, with eight violins, two violas, two cellos, double bass, two oboes, two horns, bassoon, and harpsichord. The libretto is included in Italian and English. This is one of the most pleasurable CD recordings of a Baroque opera I've heard in recent years.
Unlike his ‘Armide’, one that Gluck claimed to be a ‘favourite’, ‘Ezio’ follows the rigid recitative-aria da capo pattern. Conductor Alan Curtis and period band, Il Complesso Barocco, already brought out Handel’s namesake work prior to this recording.
Ezio was composed for Prague opera in 1750. Gluck later revised the work, but Metastasio's libretto had already been adopted in compositions by Porpora, Hasse, Handel, Jommelli and others. Hence the ‘versions’ of this work’s rather obscure original score vie with each other in the various recordings that came out roughly at the same time as this one.
The story, with its hot-tempered Roman emperor Valentinian (Valentiniano), scheming general Maximilian (Massimo) and wronged military hero Aetius (Ezio), is a better fit for Gluck's musical and theatrical language. The various arias are characterful, and the rather lengthy recitatives are charged with emotion and plot twists.
The present recording follows from a live concert performance back in November 2008 in France. Curtis's singers bring a wealth of variety and declamatory richness to these recitatives, and the obligato team of harpsichord/cello is attentive and unobtrusive. Leading the cast is the Italian dramatic contralto Sonia Prina, who portrayed the prickly emperor Valentiniano in Curtis’ Handel's version; here she brings out the libretto's hint that the arrogance of Ezio who has just defeated Attila the Hun contributes to his political troubles. Her singing, with its attractively open chest register and authoritative rhythmic backbone, is impressive in this heroic trouser-role. As the quasi-villainous cesare, countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic's singing is commanding as always in both intonation and enunciation as well as breath control, and he revels in the emperor Valentiniano's imperious impatience. His portrayal on the one hand paints the regal elegance of the character with his even-toned mezzo-soprnao, and on the other, the harsher side of the personality by his raucous high volume, as in "Per tutto il timore," as well as by taking cadenzas into the high register.
As Massimo, tenor Topi Lehtipuu gets the lion’s share of stunning arias, which he delivers with honeyed tone, employing some imaginative and varied ornamentation. With its solo oboe and murmuring strings, "Se povero il ruscello" is a forerunner of Orfeo's placid and hypnotic "Che puro ciel," and Lehtipuu unfolds the long vocal line with lovely lyricism. His voice is nicely contrasted by the even more honeyed-hued lyrical voice of young tenor Julian Pregariden as Vario, who has but one solo aria that he delivers with real aplomb.
The real star of the show however is mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg, who brings much character and warmth to the role of the political pawn Fulvia, whose conciliatory nature finally explodes in outrage. Hallenberg is particularly superb in the final act, biting into the recitative and using the leaps and angularity of the final aria, "Ah, non son io che parlo," to convey the character's unhinged, agitated state. The singing is even throughout all registers, with a top shining like liquid gold.
In the secondary role of Onoria, soprano Mayuko Karasawa brings temperament to the recitatives.
Though Gluck's score has abundant writing for oboes and horns, but Curtis’ string section is very well managed and forms a wonderful anchor of the entire instrumental ensemble.