Christoph Willibald von Gluck
One of the great masters of eighteenth century opera, Gluck is known for his elegant synthesis of the French and Italian operatic traditions, exemplified by such remarkable works as Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste. A native of the Upper Palatinate, Gluck first studied with the Czech cellist and composer (and Franciscan friar) Bohuslav Cernohorsky, later continuing his studies with Sammartini in Italy. Already known as an opera composer in the 1740s, Gluck visited Paris and London, where he met Handel. He married in 1750, settling in Vienna as an opera conductor. In 1762, Gluck wrote his Orfeo ed Euridice, heralding a new era in the history of opera. Combining the Classical ideals of beauty and simplicity with an innate sense of dramatic impetus, it broke down many of the overwrought formal conventions of the Baroque and set the standard for a whole generation of operatic composers. In many ways, opera in the nineteenth century had its conception in the works of Gluck. While Gluck achieved wide fame in his own time, his works are rare in opera houses today; he is primarily remembered as a reformer and revolutionary. In his dedication to Alceste, Gluck wrote that he "sought to confine music to its true function of serving poetry by expressing feelings and the situations of the story without interrupting and cooling off the action through useless and superfluous ornaments." This statement has often been interpreted as a desire to subordinate music to poetry; however, what inspired Gluck's reform was his belief that music gains in expressiveness when it is properly balanced with poetry. Thus, for example, by abolishing the traditional strict separation of recitative and aria, Gluck used music as a means of maintaining an uninterrupted flow of the dramatic action. Gluck's librettist for Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste, and Paride ed Elena -- the three works best representing his reformist ideas -- was Raniero de Calzabigi, a poet and critic who anticipated some of the composer's fundamental ideas concerning poetry and music. For example, Calzabigi opposed the traditional poetic approach to mythology, exemplified by Pietro Metastasio, the greatest librettist of the opera seria tradition. While Metastasio's mythological figures appear as thinly disguised eighteenth century characters, Calzabigi's poetry strives to create an atmosphere of timelessness, which perfectly suited Gluck's artistic intentions. After bringing his reforms to fruition, Gluck had several new works produced in Paris. The most remarkable of these works is Armide (1777), based on an old libretto by Philippe Quinault, which Lully used for his eponymous work in 1686. Viewed by conservatives as an attack on the French musical and literary traditions, Gluck's operas were targeted by a literary cabal, which decided to embrace Niccolò Piccinni, a respected composer of comic operas, as a standard-bearer. In a literary squabble reminiscent of the "quarrel of the buffoons" in 1752, the traditionalists proclaimed the superiority of traditional (that is: Italian, or, more precisely, Metastasian) opera over French opera, represented by the iconoclastic Gluck. It should be noted that the two composers, who respected each other, refused to participate in the war of words, leaving the polemics to Parisian pseudo-intellectuals. In essence, Gluck's victory over his adversaries was the triumph of music. His works are regarded as seminal contributions to musical drama, and his ideas were gradually accepted, first by Piccinni himself, and later by Cherubini, who flourished as an opera composer in the 1790s and early 1800s. In the nineteenth century, Gluck's approach to opera was adopted by Spontini, who in turn influenced Berlioz as an opera composer.
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Classical - Released September 5, 2011 | Warner Classics
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Gluck wrote his opera seria Ezio in 1750 for production in Prague. (In 1762, after the formal and stylistic breakthroughs of Orfeo ed Euridice, he revised the opera for a Vienna production, but it's the original version that's recorded here.) The opera has many of the characteristics of Italian late Baroque opera; it's essentially a series of arias separated by accompanied recitatives, the formula that the composer reacted against in Orfeo. It's not Gluck at his most innovative or original, but it's a fine example of opera seria, with a number of impressive arias and some very expressive recitatives, and it can make quite an impact in a performance as fine as this one. Alan Curtis has a deep understanding of what makes early opera tick, and he conducts Il Complesso Barocco in an elegant, engaging performance that has plenty of momentum. The recording comes from a live 2008 concert performance at Théâtre de Poissy, but there is absolutely no audience noise, and the sound is immaculate and well-balanced. All the soloists are absolutely superb, and although this was a concert rather than a staged performance they convey a heady dramatic heat in their interactions. Contralto Sonia Prina exudes masculine aggressiveness in the title role and delivers Ezio's aria "Se fedele mi brama il regnant," a coloratura tour-de-force, with dazzling command. Tenor Topi Lehtipuu seems to grow in artistic stature with each new recording he makes, and he comes across with great dramatic force and effortless vocal agility. His aria "Se povero il ruscello" is one of the highlights of the album (and also of the opera; Gluck recognized this and lifted it for use in Orfeo ed Euridice). It's easy to hear the growth in countertenor Max Cencic's already formidable assurance and vocal distinctiveness. Highly recommended for fans of late Baroque or early Classical opera. © TiVo