PERFORMER: Sonia Prina, Ann Hallenberg, Max Emanuel Cenci´c, Topi Lehtipuu, Mayuko Karasawa, Julian Prégardien; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 070 9292
As conductor Alan Curtis observes, ‘for a while in the 20th century, Gluck was almost reduced to being a one-opera composer’ – Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) being the work he means. Even now, when more of his innovative later operas are performed, his sizeable early output still largely languishes in obscurity.
Metastasio’s 1728 libretto is about the virtuous ancient Roman general Ezio and his beloved Fulvia surviving both the jealousy of Emperor Valentiniano and the intrigues of Fulvia’s scheming father Massimo. Gluck set it twice: for Prague in 1750, then – following the premiere of Orfeo – in an essentially new version for Vienna (1763). It is the first version that is recorded here.
What it reveals may surprise listeners. Though couched in the classic opera seria mode of the time, which Gluck’s later works did so much to render obsolete, it shows that, like Handel, he could imbue the traditional form with drama – even if a slower and more formal kind of drama than he later espoused. Here the succession of vast, ornate da capo arias is vividly characterised by many distinctive touches.
All the principals shine, especially Sonia Prina’s noble Ezio and Topi Lehtipuu’s Iago-like Massimo. The band is neat and precise, and Curtis highlights the work’s musical strengths with skill. George Hall