La Gioconda Rarely Performed and for Good Reason

GermanyGermany Ponchielli: La Gioconda, Deutsche Oper Orchestra and Chorus, Jesús López Cobos (conductor), Berlín Deutsche Oper, 26.1.2014 (JMI)

La Gioconda
La Gioconda © 2014, Bettina Stöß

La Gioconda: Hui He
Enzo Grimaldo: Marcelo Álvarez
Barnaba: Lado Ataneli
Laura: Marianne Cornetti
Alvise: Ante Jerkunica
La Cieca: Dana Beth Miller
Zuane: Ben Wager
Isepo: Gideon Poppe

Production: Berlin Deutsche Oper
Direction: Filippo Sanjust
Sets and Costumes: Filippo Sanjust


La Gioconda is not performed often these days, and there are good reasons for that. The musical quality is not truly remarkable, although it does contain some inspired pages. The plot is highly implausible. And finally, the vocal demands are serious: it requires no less than six major singers in the cast. I had not seen this opera since 2008 when Madrid Teatro Real staged the elegant production by Pierluigi Pizzi. The truth is that this Berlin perfomance seemed rather tedious to me and, above all, too long.

 The stage production bears the signature of  Filippo Sanjust and had its premiere in 1974. This was its 53rd outing since then, which makes clear its limited success in Berlin. As in the case of Tosca, this is a realistic production with attractive and heavy sets that are rather out of fashion nowadays. It is one of those productions where the curtain opens and the audience applauds; this is common at the Metropolitan in New York, but I don’t remember experiencing it before in Berlin. The sets are also created by Filippo Sanjust and have the great disadvantage of requiring three long intervals to make the difficult stage changes. The inconvenience is not small considering that the intervals almost total the whole length of the score. The costumes too are by Filippo Sanjust and are attractive and well-suited to the Venitian environment of the opera.

There is not much to say about the stage direction. The choir was static and the soloists were more or less left to their personal skills as actors. Of course, we did have The Dance of the Hours ballet, probably the best known part of the opera.

The musical direction was in the hands of Jesús López Cobos, who is much appreciated in this theater where he was musical director for a long period of time. His reading was good, very much in line with his usual control of stage and pit, and he obtained an excellent result from the Deutsche Oper Orchestra. He was a great help to the singers on stage, who were never covered by the sound from the the pit. There was, as is usual in this house, an excellent performance by the Deutsche Oper Choir.

The best in the cast was soprano Hui He in the main character of La Gioconda. This is a role that requires a dramatic soprano, particularly in the fourth act, and Ms. He did really well. Her voice is attractive with a fair size, and she is also good on stage. She  was convincing at the difficult aria Suicidio, where the low notes are very much needed.

Marcelo Álvarez gave life to Enzo Grimaldo. He maintains a beautiful timbre and is without a doubt one of the best among today’s tenors. His performance was rather superficial, especially in the famous aria Celo è Mar, where I was expecting more from the Argentinian star.

Mezzo soprano Marianne Cornetti was a good Laura in vocal terms but of little interest on stage. If the plot of the opera is not credible, it was still less so with her Laura, whose presence provoked laughter in some people in the audience on a few occasions.

Lado Ataneli has never been a singer in search of elegance and nuance in his  interpretations. His Barnaba was rather rough, monotonous and boring.

Ante Jerkunica was a serviceable Alvise. This singer has two very different voices, with a good middle range and a very problematic and colorless top.

Dana Beth Miller as La Cieca was fine, though she is not the genuine contralto called for in the score.

The theater was at about  85% of capacity. The audience gave a warm reception to the artists at the final bows, with the biggest ovations for Hui He and Marcelo Álvarez.

José Mª. Irurzun