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 Lion’s mouth
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 and reveals himself as an agent of the feared Council of Ten. He knows all about Enzo’s secret passion for Laura and offers to help them elope together. That evening he will bring Laura to Enzo’s ship.
With Enzo gone, Barnaba dictates to the public scribe an anonymous letter to Alvise revealing his wife’s infidelity and the plan of escape. He posts the letter into the Lion’s mouth, repository of secret information passed to the Inquisition.
La Gioconda has overheard everything and is tormented by her lover’s faithlessness.
Enzo waits aboard his ship 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.
The House of Gold
Laura has been caught and returned under guard to Alvise’s palace. Her husband insists she must die by drinking poison. Gioconda has managed to get into the palace with the selfless intention of saving her rival for the sake of Enzo. She finds Laura alone and swaps the poison with a drug that creates the appearance of death and persuades her to drink it.
Alvise welcomes the nobility to the palace; Enzo is disguised among 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. A despairing Enzo flings off his disguise and denounces Alvise as a murderer. He is arrested.
The Orfana Canal
La Gioconda has agreed to give herself to Barnaba in exchange for Enzo’s release.
Enzo appears, demanding to know what La Gioconda expects from him in return. She tells Enzo that she has robbed the tomb of Laura’s body. He threatens to kill her if she doesn’t reveal where she has hidden it.
Laura awakes from her death like sleep and the lovers are reunited. Promising that they will never forget La Gioconda’s great sacrifice they make their escape via the canal. Alone, Gioconda prays to the Holy Virgin to drive away the demon.
Barnaba arrives to claim his reward and La Gioconda agrees to honour their pact.