GLUCK Ezio. Sonia Prina, Max Emanuel Cencic, Ann Hallenberg, Topi Lehtipuu, Julian Pregardien, Mayuko Karasava, Il Complesso Barocco / Alan Curtis. Virgin 2cds

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Gluck Ezio Sonia Prina Max Barocco Alan Curtis Virgin 2Cds

GLUCK Ezio

Sonia Prina, Max Emanuel Cencic, Ann Hallenberg, Topi Lehtipuu, Julian Pregardien, Mayuko Karasava

Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis

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”.

Written to a libretto by the prolific and influential Metastasio, Ezio exemplifies the formal opera seria that Gluck sought to leave behind with his so-called reform operas such as Orfeo and Alceste; but after Orfeo’s epoch-making premiere in Vienna in 1762 he revised Ezio for performance at the city’s Burgtheater in 1763.

“Gluck’s revisions to Ezio were not motivated not by any dissatisfaction with the work itself, but by the larger size of the Burgtheater and the concomitant need for a larger orchestra,” explains Alan Curtis. “Ezio is one of Metastasio's most dramatic operas. It is also one of the few with a plot totally lacking any absurdities or situations which modern listeners could find difficult to accept. An unfortunate aspect of the later version is the omission of the magnificent aria for the tenor, Massimo – ‘Se povero il ruscello’. Gluck had adapted it for Orfeo, where it became ‘Che puro ciel’, so the Viennese public already knew it too well. We are especially happy to be able to include it in this new recording, sung magnificently by Topi Lehtipuu.”

Curtis provides illuminating insights into Gluck’s place in operatic history. “For a while during the twentieth century, Gluck was almost reduced to being a one-opera composer: the composer of Orfeo. One could even say that he suffered from too much praise as the reformer, the saviour of opera -- integrating the chorus into the action, liberating opera from the da capo aria and from solo virtuosity. But these days solo virtuosity and da capo variations are very much back in fashion, and people have come to realise that, especially in the first half of his mature years, he was also a master of this ‘old-fashioned’ seria style.”

Until now, Curtis’ operatic recordings for Virgin Classics have focused on Handel, with Berenice and Ariodante as the most recent additions to his discography of the composer’s works. Gramophone has said that “Alan Curtis has done more than most to prove that many of Handel's 42 operas are first-rate music dramas”, while the BBC Music Magazine has praised him as “a seasoned Handelian who has contributed, perhaps more than anyone now, to the composer’s operas on disc.” How, though, does Curtis view the relationship between Gluck and the older Handel?

“Gluck no doubt respected Handel,” he says, “though there is no direct evidence that he learned anything from him -- and certainly no example of his stealing any ideas. Unfortunately, the respect was not mutual. It is said that Handel remarked, after Gluck's visit to London, that his cook knew more about counterpoint than Gluck! Coming from the world of Handelian opera, one is first of all struck by the simplicity of much of Gluck's music -- a simplicity which can be mistaken (as it no doubt was by Handel) for a mere lack of complexity or even lack of skill. But Gluck’s music is much more revolutionary than that. It was a way of changing the musical language of the time, and of concentrating on dramatic situations and bare emotions: in short, a way of reforming opera, a process that Gluck and others began long before the appearance of Orfeo in 1762.

“Fortunately for us today, one does not have to choose between these two styles of opera. One can appreciate both. As I work with instrumentalists as singers, not only do we find it refreshing to approach a different style with different criteria, but we sometimes thereby discover new modes of expression. Listen, for instance, to the mezzo soprano Sonia Prina as Ezio, singing ‘Ecco alle mie catene’ near the end of Act II. She is justly famous for her lively, virtuosic Handelian coloratura, but while her Handel can astonish, her Gluck can move you to tears.”

Virgin Classics 2cds 0709292

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