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Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
La Gioconda (1876)
La Gioconda, a street singer - Andrea Gruber (soprano); Enzo Grimaldi, exiled Genoese prince in love with Laura - Marco Berti (ten); Barnaba, sadistic spy who lusts after Gioconda - Alberto Mastromarino (bar); Laura Adorno, wife of Alvise and loved by Enzo - Eildiko Komlosi (mezzo); Alvise, one of the Heads of the State Inquisition - Carlo Colombara (bass); La Cieca, blind mother of Gioconda - Elisabetta Fiorillo (alto)
Orchestra, Chorus and Corps de Ballet of the Arena di Verona/Danato Renzetti
rec. live, Arena di Verona, Italy, June 2005
Director, set and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi
Video Director Tiziano Mancini
Recorded in High Definition. dts digital surround sound, Linear PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
DYNAMIC 33500 [2 DVDs: 162:00]

My colleague Robert Farr gives a fine précis of Gioconda's action in his 2006 review of this release.  Gioconda has always been somewhat controversial, its plot being rather convoluted. It has rarely been hailed as a masterpiece, yet taken for what it is – an unashamed and superbly fashioned  melodrama – it offers much. On disc, Callas (now on Naxos) and Milanov offer searing versions. To be able to experience the work as stagecraft offers a further window into the work's strengths - yes, and weaknesses - and to this extent the present Dynamic DVD is more than welcome.
This is an Arena di Verona performance, yet strangely there are moments when one becomes aware of a very real intimacy to the various interpersonal exchanges. The staging can tend towards the over-dark, emphasising the intensity of the emotions on display. Huge steps - a great operatic stock-in-trade! - dominate the opera's opening; they are steps to a church, it transpires. The initial confrontation, between Barnaba and Gioconda, works principally because of the excellence of baritone Alberto Mastromarino's Barnaba. Mastromarino's voice is appropriately dark of hue yet is focused; more, Mastromarino is very much inside his part.
Andrea Gruber is the tremendous Gioconda. As my colleague suggests, there is occasional evidence of stress to her voice, at which points she sounds tremulous, but there is no doubting her involvement, especially in the famous Suicidio. Gruber maintains her intensity throughout the opera, investing her text with a multitude of shades and meanings. A pity her stage mother, known in the opera as La Cieca and taken here by alto Elisabetta Fiorillo, is on the wobbly side vocally, although Fiorillo's 'Voce di Donna' reveals excellent legato. A high point comes in the shape of the opening of Act 3, the scene between Colombara and Komlosi. Komlosi is wonderfully strong in her higher registers - some might find her vibrato a little too much - while Colombara is another to reveal a lovely legato. In fact Komlosi is one of this production's real stars - her acting in Act 2 is completely believable. Almost as believable, in fact, as Andrea Gruber's final act, wherein she reaches her peak. Her rendition of the line 'Enzo, amor mio' is heart-stopping.
Marco Berti's Enzo, a Genovese nobleman,  is slightly disappointing. His 'Cielo e mar' - as he awaits the arrival of his love, Laura - is merely adequate and not really what this marvellous aria deserves. Much better is Mauro Buffoli's Isepo, whose monologue, 'O Monumento' is as black as Ponchielli's Iago-equivalent demands it to be.
The chorus is superb, as are the dancers for the 'Dance of the Hours'. Conductor Donato Renzetti has more than the measure of the score, and it is his sure and sensitive direction that to a large measure ensures the success of this performance. That Pier Luigi Pizzi is director and set and costume designer perhaps explains the consistency of this staging's conception. I hope many will see this DVD and enjoy it, for that may lead to increased cries for regular stagings of Gioconda in the UK. I would love to see this opera live – in the meantime, the present account offers a real emotional experience.
Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Farr


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