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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Ezio (1763) [141.06]
Valentiniano – Ruth Sandhoff (mezzo)
Fulvia – Kirsten Blaise (soprano)
Ezio – Franco Fagioli (mezzo)
Onoria – Sophie Marin-Degor (soprano)
Massimo – Stefano Ferrari (tenor)
Varo – Netta Or (soprano)
Orchestra of Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele/Michael Hofstetter
rec. 15-17 July 2007, Kirche der Karlshohe, Ludwigsburg
OEHMS CLASSICS OC918 [62.19 + 78.50]
Experience Classicsonline

Having presented Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna, at the Burgtheater, Gluck followed it with his opera Ezio, to a text by Metastasio, also at the Burgtheater in 1763. It is unclear who commissioned the opera and why Gluck ended up presenting a traditional opera seria at what was one of the most progressive theatres in Europe. Despite joining with Calzabigi to write reformed opera, Gluck had by no means jettisoned the traditional opera seria form. Early in 1763 he had presented Il trionfo di Clelia (also to a text by Metastasio) for the inauguration of the new opera house in Bologna.
 
Gluck had already presented a setting of Metastasio’s Ezio libretto in Prague in 1750. He had subsequently re-used arias from that setting in other operas which had been presented in Vienna. For example, Massimo’s aria Se povero il ruscello from the Prague Ezio was recycled in Che puro ciel in Orfeo. Though keen to exploit material, Gluck had principles and would not present re-used music twice in the same city. For this reason he pruned the Prague Ezio of any material which had already appeared in Vienna and added seven arias from Il trionfo di Clelia. He wrote only three new arias. Almost all the recitative was newly composed. The result is noticeably shorter than Handel’s setting of the same libretto, though Gluck uses a moderate amount of recitative with relatively short arias.
 
I am unclear as to why the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele chose to perform and record this particular version of Ezio. It is a good example of Gluck’s standard working method, even when he’d started writing his reform operas.
 
To us the opera seems alarmingly like a throw-back, a reversion to old fashioned opera seria. To Gluck’s contemporaries the Vienna Ezio was notable for the naturalness of its vocabulary. The CD booklet quotes an anonymous contemporary review in the Wienerisches Diarium. ‘… never has any composer been truer to nature than he. Almost all have sacrificed it to the art. ... For him [Gluck] the poet does not count solely for what he expresses, but his work gains new agreeability and new stimulation from the art that it is combined with’. So we must view Ezio as another experiment, one where Gluck is learning what does and does not work in terms of naturalism.
 
Part of the charm of the opera lies in its attractive overture and ritornello, given lively, almost brisk performances by the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele orchestra under Michael Hofstetter. These are recognisably Gluckian in form and sound. They anchor the opera firmly into the same world as Orfeo and the ballet Don Juan.

 
The plot is a typical Metastasian one involving family politics and the clash between love and duty. What was important was not the naturalism of the plot but the way the characters were put into extreme emotional situations and tested. The Roman general Ezio is tested by the machinations of his fiancée’s father, Massimo. Ultimately Ezio’s fiancée, Fulvia, is forced to choose between her father and her lover.
 
Gluck’s concern seems to have been to provide varied and suitable arias; variety and attractiveness being the watchword rather than involvement in the plot. On repeated listening the commitment of the cast is impressive. They have performed their roles on stage and this shows. The recitative sounds something like drama rather than mere word-spinning. And though individual arias may fail to touch the heart, the singers draw you into the drama of the performance. There is a great deal of plotting and understandably not everyone will want to follow the libretto in detail.
 
The cast are all creditably hard-working, giving convincing performances of Gluck’s music. Notwithstanding the Wienerisches Diarium’s comments about naturalism, Gluck must have had a group of talented virtuoso singers in his cast and the music he wrote reflects this.
 
Ruth Sandhoff as Valentiniano the Roman Emperor, copes well with the virtuoso nature of her first aria, though she does show some strain at the top. Generally her attractive mezzo-soprano voice is shown off well by the music.
 
Franco Fazioli, as the general Ezio, displays a lovely fruity mezzo with a good sense of line. Fulvia’s first aria is the affecting Caro padre. It is still a tricky piece and soprano Kirsten Blaise copes admirably. The two get an affecting duet though Blaise does show some pressure at the top of her voice. That said, later in Act 2 she redeems herself with some impressive high notes in her aria Quel fingere affetto.
 
Stefano Ferrari displays an attractive tenor voice as Massimo, Fulvia’s father, though his passage-work is a bit laboured at times. He shows some strain at top but throws off his first aria in a bravura manner. His final aria is a real charmer complete with viola da gamba obbligato.
 
Unfortunately soprano Sophie Marin-Degor (Onoria) also shows some strain at the top, but copes well with her technical challenges. Her act 2 aria Fin che per te mi palpita is particularly elaborate. Soprano Netta Or provides an impressively decorated da capo for her aria Nasce al bosco.
 
The CD booklet provides a complete libretto in Italian, English and German, along with an article which provides full background to the opera. The only annoying point is that the discs are indexed on a scene by scene basis - individual arias are not indexed.
 
Although by no means perfect, this performance is charming and involving. Anyone interested in what Gluck did after Orfeo should buy it.
 
Robert Hugill
 

 


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