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
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  which,
from a sampling, is just not in this new set's league.