Handel and Gluck take on General Ezio
Two highly enjoyable recordings of Ezio from Handel and Gluck boosted by two brilliant performances by the male leads.
Artists: Soloists, Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
Label: Archiv 477 8073
Artists: Soloists, Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik/Andreas Stoehr
Label: Coviello Classics COV 20713
Pietro Metastasio was the embodiment of opera seria. Both before and during his time as ‘Caesarean poet’ to the Habsburg court in Vienna he wrote libretto after libretto on mythological or historical subjects, from Achilles to Zenobia; and composer after composer set his texts, often more than once. Ezio follows on from Verdi’s Attila: the victorious general Aetius (Ezio) returns to Rome, where he incurs the resentment of the emperor Valentinian. In addition, both men love Fulvia, whose father seeks to exploit the situation for his own ends. As usual in opera seria, virtue triumphs; and, in Ezio, the villainous Maximus is pardoned. There were only five performances of Handel’s Ezio in the composer’s lifetime.
It has never been rated highly, but this excellent recording should win it new friends. What is particularly impressive is the way the acres of harpsichord-accompanied recitative are handled. It is the recitatives that advance the plot: often tedious, they are here delivered with such dramatic force that – following text and translation in the booklet – you find yourself hanging on every word. In a fine cast, Sonia Prina – in a role actually written for a contralto, not a castrato – stands out as a believably imperial Valentinian. Gluck’s 1750 setting for Prague – he composed another, for Vienna, in 1763 – is still Baroque in cast, with a preponderance of da capo arias. One delightful surprise is an early version of what became ‘Che puro ciel’ in Orfeo ed Euridice. As in the Handel, it is Valentinian – Max Emanuel Cencic – who makes the greatest impression. Both sets are highly enjoyable.