Opera Scotland

Gioconda La Gioconda; The Joyful Girl

Music

Amilcare Ponchielli (born Paderno Fasolaro, 31 August 1854; died Milan, 17 January 1886).

Text

Tobia Gorrio (a pseudonym used by Arrigo Boito, being an anagram of his name)

Soource

Drama Angelo, Tyran de Padoue (1835) by Victor Hugo (1802-85).

 

Premieres

First Performance: Milan (La Scala), 8 April 1876.

First Performance Final revision: Milan (La Scala), 12 February 1880.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 31 May 1883.

First Performance in Scotland: March 1903.

Scottish Opera Premiere: N/A.

 

Background

La Gioconda (one of the few opera titles which seems to defy translation) is one of the most enduringly successful of operas by the group of minor Italian composers who followed in Verdi's footsteps. While the melodramatic plot is not perfect, and far from subtle in characterization, that is insignificant given the succession of stirring melodies it contains. There are memorable arias for all the principals (including 'Cielo e mar' for the tenor and 'Suicidio!' for the soprano), gripping duets and rousing ensembles (particularly in the third act). The 'Dance of the Hours' must be the most memorably indispensable of ballet sequences in Italian opera.

It is the perfect opera for a summer evening at the Verona Arena. It is still much enjoyed by audiences at La Scala and the Met. British opera managements are unaccountably reluctant to put it on, for some reason preferring to give it in concert form. Opera North and Opera Holland Park have both enjoyed success with it in recent years. But otherwise British audiences (and most certainly Scottish ones) have had to wait for amateur groups to tackle it. It always makes an effect.

 

Main Characters

Gioconda, a street ballad singer (soprano)

La Cieca, her blind mother (contralto)

Alvise Badoero, a Venetian State Inquisitor (bass)

Laura, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Enzo Grimaldo, a Genoese nobleman (tenor)

Barnaba, an Inquisition spy (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

In the ccourtyard of the Doge's palace. Barnaba looks on as the crowd get excited about the imminent regatta. He lusts after Gioconda, who now leads in her mother. She rejects Barnaba, however, and loves Enzo. Barnaba incites the crowd by accusing La Cieca of witchcraft. Enzo, disguised as a fisherman, fails to rescue her, and it is only Alvise who succeeds in stopping the lynching. In gratitude La Cieca gives Laura a rosary. Enzo recognises Laura as an old flame. Barnaba volunteers to help Enzo meet secretly with Laura, but knowing Enzo's true identity, writes a letter denouncing him to the Venetian authorities.

Enzo is on his ship's deck waiting for Laura, while Barnaba looks on. Laura arrives, and Enzo prepares for them to sail. Gioconda now arrives, and, unaware of the lady's identity, quarrels with Laura over Enzo. However she then recognises her mother's rosary, and decides instead to save Laura and Enzo from Alvise, whose ship is approaching. Enzo sets fire to his ship as a diversion, and they flee into the darkness.

At Alvise's palace, he is determined on revenge on his unfaithful wife and her lover. He orders her to take poison, and goes to greet his guests. Gioconda sneaks in before Laura can drink, and substitutes a drug so she will sleep, but seem dead. Alvise entertains his guests with the Dance of the Hours while his wife's 'corpse' lies in state next door. During the festivities Enzo is arrested and Gioconda promises herself to Barnaba if he will help rescue Enzo.

In Gioconda's house by the canal, she considers suicide while awaiting the arrivals. She has brought Laura's body to the house. When Enzo arrives he is angry at this until Laura wakes up and Gioconda sends the happy couple away to enjoy their future together. When Barnaba arrives he moves to embrace Gioconda, but she stabs herself and dies. He can only tell her corpse that he has already drowned her mother in the canal.

The Cast

Alvise Badoero
 one of the State Inquisitors
Barnaba
 a spy of the Inquisition
Enzo Grimaldo
 a Genoese nobleman
Gioconda
 a ballad singer
Isèpo
 a public scribe
La Cieca
 a blind woman, Gioconda's mother
Laura Adorno
 wife of Alvise
Pilot
 
Zuane
 a boatman

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