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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ezio, HWV 29 (1731-1732)
Sonia Prina (soprano) - Valentiniano
Ann Hallenberg (mezzo soprano) - Ezio
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (tenor) - Massimo
Karina Gauvin (soprano) - Fulvia
Marianne Andersen (mezzo soprano) - Onoria
Vito Priante (bass) - Varo
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec Teatro Comunale di Lonigo, September 2008
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 8073 [3 CDs: 67:56 + 61:08 + 57:45]
Experience Classicsonline

Ezio is a rare bird, even now, in the Handel discography. Despite Senesino's presence in the cast it wasn't especially popular even in the composer's lifetime and the relative indifference it has suffered can probably be ascribed to a number of factors; the machinations of a plot, convoluted even by the standards of the day; its rather antique and somewhat statuesque quality; and the stand-and-deliver nature of the work itself, a series of recitatives and arias that are not of the uniformly high level to be found in the more popular operas. That, at least, is my own surmise having listened to it.

The plot is a Roman one; the usual mélange of betrothal, marriage thwarting, murder, insult, conspiracy and death. The libretto was by Metastasio, and adapted for Handel by person or persons unknown, and could well have done with extensive simplification. One doesn't feel Handel responding with the increasing, ratcheted tension of obvious examples such as Giulio Cesare. Nevertheless the performers can only work with the extant material and it's here that they really score.

The First Act sets the tone for all that follows. Dramatic, yes, but sometimes curiously conventional, it lays out an elaborate plot via the medium of finely coloured accompanied recitatives and arias, which are all solo but for the final Act III Chorus. Of course Handel being Handel he could hardly fail to generate compelling lyric interest. Pensa a serbarmi, o cara, Ezio's Act I Scene II aria is emblematic of the effortless seeming melodic line and its subtly supportive instrumentation. Ann Hallenberg is the commanding and admirable mezzo. Her stately assurance is underlined in Act II's Recagli quell'acciaro. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani takes the tenor role of Massimo and his elegant, quite small well scaled tenor is a decided asset, as one can detect in Il nocchier che si figura. Good casting ensures that Marianne Andersen, who takes the role of Onorio, sounds well contrasted with Hallenberg. Higher up we find Sonia Prina as Valentiniano and she proves a dominating presence with regal flourish in the voice and a rather resinous depth too - she doesn't over emote or over embellish, fortunately, and has a decidedly masculine edge in her Act II aria Vi fida lo sposo.

Karina Gauvin is Fulvia and she has a well focused soprano, brightly forward, and capable of dramatic edge - try Act II Scene XII (La mia costanza) for proof. Bass Vito Priante completes a strong vocal cast list, one that presents the work with all dispatch; lithe in the recits, well judged tempi in the arias. Hear Priante shine in the 'trumpet' aria in Act III Già risonar d'intorno.

Directing the traffic is Alan Curtis who ensures that there is a cumulative sweep to the recitatives and a natural pacing to the arias. Il Complesso Barocco plays with considerable verve. I felt that Ezio's Act III Scene I aria Se la mia vita could have done with a retake, for instrumental not vocal reasons, but otherwise the orchestral tapestry is first class.

Full texts and translations are included as are well judged notes. Clearly this is one for a specialist Handelian, who should prefer this to the previous, cut version on Vox [27503] which, from a sampling, is just not in this new set's league.

Jonathan Woolf




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