04 Jun - 12 Jul 2020
One of the grandest of Italian grand operas.
Luscious tunes portray most serene Venice – La Serenissima – a place preferring peace to conflict; a place of diplomacy, wealth, justice and prosperity.
But under the cruel eye of the Inquisition lives a simple singer: a dutiful daughter to her blind mother. Bursting with love for her mother, her lover Enzo, and fury at his treachery, she tumbles into Venice’s bloody underworld.
The remarkable South African soprano Amanda Echalaz, already acclaimed at ROH and the Met, takes the title role. Joseph Calleja is the treacherous lover and vocal powerhouses Donose, Fiorillo, Stout, Bayley complete the cast.
Verdi was king of the opera scene, and, briefly, Ponchielli’s Gioconda, toppled him. There was not a dry eye in La Scala as everyone mourned the noble tragedy of the simple singer, La Gioconda. It ran and ran.
An opera in four acts
Sung in Italian with surtitles in English
Music: Amilcare Ponchielli
Libretto: Tobia Gorrio (anagrammatic pseudonym of Arrigo Boito). Based on Angelo, Tyrant of Padua, a play in prose by Victor Hugo, 1835.
First performance: 8 April 1876, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
UK premiere: 31 May 1883, Covent Garden
With the Orchestra of English National Opera
The Doge’s Palace
The people of Venice are celebrating Carnival. Barnaba, a state spy, lusts for the beautiful street singer La Gioconda as she leads her blind mother, La Cieca, through the square. She rejects Barnaba’s advances and, in revenge, he denounces the old lady as a witch. The angry mob rises up.
It is Laura, wife of Inquisitor Alvise Badoero, who brings calm and places La Cieca under her personal protection. In gratitude the old woman presents her with her beloved rosary.
Sharp-eyed Barnaba has noticed furtive glances between Laura and the mysterious sea captain and realises that the sea captain is banished nobleman Enzo Grimaldo, who was engaged to Laura before her marriage.
Barnaba confronts Enzo. He confesses his plan to elope with Laura and Barnaba promises to help.
With Enzo gone, Barnaba dictates a letter to Alvise revealing his wife’s infidelity and the plan of escape. Gioconda has overheard everything and is tormented by her lover’s faithlessness.
Enzo waits for Barnaba to arrive with Laura. Their reunion is joyful and Enzo reassures her that Barnaba can be trusted.
Everyone is after Laura: La Gioconda has been following her, intent on revenge; Alvise and his men are also in pursuit. Gioconda is about to stab Laura when she sees her mother’s rosary hanging round her neck. She decides to save Laura.
Enzo returns to find Laura vanished and Gioconda triumphant. Alvise’s men are approaching. Enzo sets fire to the ship rather than let it fall into the hands of his enemies. He escapes.
Laura has been caught. Her husband insists she must die by drinking poison. Gioconda has managed to get into the palace with the intention of saving her rival. She finds Laura alone and swaps the poison with a drug that creates the appearance of death.
Alvise welcomes the nobility to the palace; Barnaba and Enzo are amongst the guests. The entertainment ends with a ballet, the Dance of the Hours. A funeral bell is heard: Laura’s body is ready for burial. Enzo flings off his disguise and is seized by Alvise’s men.
A crumbling ruin on the island of Giudecca
La Gioconda has agreed to give herself to Barnaba in exchange for Enzo’s release. Gioconda announces that she has robbed the tomb of Laura and brought her body to Enzo. He is about to stab Gioconda when Laura wakes up. The lovers are reunited.
Enzo and Laura make their escape, leaving La Gioconda to face dreadful horrors. Gondoliers’ voices are heard: there are corpses floating in the city.
Barnaba corners Gioconda who pretends to welcome him. Whilst arraying herself with jewels, she takes a dagger and stabs herself: “I have kept my word . . . You wanted my body, you devil . . . and my body I give you!”
In a final act of evil rage Barnaba screams at the lifeless body “Yesterday your mother insulted me! I drowned her!…”