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Ponchielli – La Gioconda


1.   Filmed at Arena di Verona – June 2005

Dynamic - 33500

2 DVDs – 162 minutes

Conductor – Donato Renzetti

Stage Director, Set & Costume Designer– Pier Luigi Pizzi

Video Director – Tiziano Mancini

Lighting Designer – Sergio Rossi

Choreographer – Gheorghe Iancu


La Giaconda – Andrea Gruber

Enzo Grimaldo – Marco Berti

Barnaba – Alberto Mastromarino

Alvise Badoero – Carlo Colombara

Laura Adorno – Idiko Komlosi

La Cieca – Elizabetta Fiorillo

Principal Dancers - Letizia Giuliani & Roberto Bertoni


2.   Filmed at del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona – October 2005


2 DVDs – 174 minutes

Conductor – Danielle Callegari

Stage Director, Set & Costume Designer– Pier Luigi Pizzi

TV / Video Director – Pietro d'Agostino

Lighting Designer – Sergio Rossi

Choreographer – Gheorghe Iancu


La Giaconda – Deborah Voigt

Enzo Grimaldo – Richard Margison

Barnaba – Carlo Guelfi

Alvise Badoero – Carlo Colombara

Laura Adorno – Elizabetta Fiorillo

La Cieca – Ewa Podles

Principal Dancers - Letizia Giuliani & Angel Corella


I always regard Ponchielli as being the father of the verismo school of opera. Both Puccini and Mascagni were his pupils at the Milan Conservatory, and his influence can be identified in their work. But Ponchielli lived at a time when “Grand Opera” was what the public expected, with premieres of works such as Samson et Dalila, Boris Godunov, Aida and the first complete Ring Cycle all taking place within five years of La Gioconda 's debut.


The plot, showing distinct verismo leanings in Act IV, is loosely based on a play by Victor Hugo and has a very decent libretto by Ariago Boito. The setting is 17 th century Venice with all the opportunity that offers for lavish costume and extravaganza: carnival, regatta, gondolas aplenty, and even a brigantine which gets set on fire.


The music is also spectacular, Voce di donna o d'angelo for the blind La Chiesa is justly famous and Enzio's Cielo e mar! is as good a tenor show piece as any Puccini wrote. Ponchielli also excelled at purely orchestral music, the overture is surely a forerunner of Mascagni's intermezzi, but it his Dance of the Hours that accompanies the lavish Act III ballet that has found a permanent place in the repertoire -a popularity which has proved the nail in the coffin, militating against frequent stage performances of the opera. Grand opera is routinely reduced to manageable proportions by the omission of the ballet – but how can you do this in a work where the ballet music is all that most people know?


So, I was suitably delighted to receive two new DVDs of the work, both variants of the “same” 2005 production, from a team headed by Pier Luigi Pizzi.


The Arena di Verona had it first and it is the sheer scale that impresses with an enormous quayside set. Even a considerably reduced set looks a little cramped within the confines of the Liceu, but the theatre's stage machinery allows more dramatic effects – in particular the gondolas move with greater freedom.


Apart from Carlo Colombara, who sings the role of Alvise with some distinction in both recordings, the rest of the casting is different, and there are pluses and minuses on both sides. As the villain Barnaba, Carlo Guelfi (Liceu) has a steadier tone than Alberto Mastromarino ( Verona ) and whilst Elizabetta Fiorillo ( Verona ) is more than satisfactory as La Cieca, Ewa Podles (Liceu) gives an outstanding portrayal of the blind old woman, bringing out all the dark hues in her contralto range.


The lovers Enzo and Laura at Verona are young enough to look the part (Marco Berti and Idiko Komlos) whereas their Liceu counterparts (Richard Margison and Elizabetta Fiorillo), appear disappointingly middle aged, but they compensate with more consistently fine singing.


I am a great admirer of Deborah Voigt (Liceu). She has a glorious voice and the technical ability to soar through all the complexities of Gioconda's Act IV solos, but she never looks more than mildly concerned by the tragedy that is unfolding around her. By contrast Andrea Gruber gives a strongly dramatic account, and her voice has an appealing freshness.


To my untrained eye, the ballet is gracefully executed at both venues, though the costumes are considerably less revealing at the Liceu.


Danielle Callegari clearly has a deep respect for Ponchielli's score and the Liceu orchestra plays superbly for him. I have reservations about Donato Renzetti's conducting, which is somewhat turgid at times, but he has the advantage of the incredible, and instantly recognizable, acoustic of the Arena di Verona.


I can't recall an instance when a co-production has been recorded twice within such a short timescale, and it is particularly interesting where such a difference in the performing spaces is involved. For anyone who is interested in the technical side of performance, the chance to see a director adapt his work to two very different theatres makes a strong case for acquiring both these sets. They also provide the opportunity to watch the piece through the eyes of two TV directors, clearly demonstrating that the camera adds an extra layer to the final presentation


If I had to choose just one for repeated viewing it would be the Liceu version. The broad brush approach which is necessary for Verona 's great amphitheatre is less kindly shown in close-up, and the very subtle lighting effects achievable at the Liceu add an extra dimension.


Serena Fenwick