Gioconda: Irina Churilova
Laura Adorno: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Enzo Grimaldo: Gamid Abdulov
Barnaba: Vladimir Moroz
Alvise Badoero: Stanislav Trofimov
La Cieca: Elena Vitman
Running time 3 hours 25 minutes
The concert has one interval
Music by Amilcare Ponchielli
Libretto by Arrigo Boito
Musical Preparation: Grigory Yakerson
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov
The composer Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–1886) spent many, many years approaching his most important creation – the opera La Gioconda. He had to compose six operas and several ballets which brought him no serious success before Giulio Ricordi took an interest in him. The largest publisher and impresario in Italy was looking for a replacement for Giuseppe Verdi who had fallen silent. As a candidate for the vacancy of “the new Verdi”, Ponchielli received a commission to write the opera I Lituani (1874). I Lituani was followed by La Gioconda. Its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 8 April 1876 brought the composer long-awaited glory.
The basis of the libretto of La Gioconda came with Victor Hugo’s play Angelo, tyran de Padoue (1835). The playwright and composer Arrigo Boito, in the future Verdi’s librettist, changed the names of the characters and transferred the action from Padua to Venice in the 17th century. Thus, too, the sea and a carnival appeared in the opera. Boito allocated each of the four acts vivid titles: “The Lion’s Mouth”, “The Rosary”, “The Ca’ d’oro” and “The Orfano Canal”. He opened the choral introduction with Juvenal’s famous phrase “Pane e circenses!” (“Bread and circuses!”), while Laura’s prayer from Act III is a quotation from the medieval hymn of the Mother of God Hail, Queen of the Sea. The libretto presented Ponchielli with rich opportunities. The first two acts of La Gioconda open with scenes of the sea – a regatta on the Venetian Lagoon and a song of the sailors onboard Enzo’s ship. The carnival is present almost uninterruptedly throughout the opera.
It is against such a rich background that the battle between the heroine, a singer known as Gioconda (from “la gioconda”, Italian for “the merry one”), and the villain Barnaba, a spy of the inquisition, unfolds. Their themes, which emerge in the orchestral prelude, run throughout the entire work.
In terms of genre, La Gioconda is a “grand opera” in the style of Aida, with the romantic weaving of fateful passions, jealousy, envy and imaginary and actual murders. The complex ensembles and choruses, the confessional arias and the ballet numbers (the famous Dance of the Hours) make it attractive for the public and it is favoured by singers. La Gioconda has inexplicably long been absent from the St Petersburg stage, and it is intended for this concert performance to fill the gap. Audiences will find it hard to refrain from comparing Gioconda with other verist actresses – Tosca and Adrienne Lecouvreur, ruined in the prime of their lives by the characters of the eponymous operas from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Anna Bulycheva
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