Spain Ponchielli, La Gioconda: Liceu Chorus and Orchestra / Guillermo García Calvo (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 7 & 8.4.2019. (JMI)
Director – Pier Luigi Pizzi
Sets and Costumes – Pier Luigi Pizzi
Lighting – Massimo Gasparon
Gioconda – Iréne Theorin/Anna Pirozzi
Enzo Grimaldo – Brian Jagde/ Stefano La Colla
Barnaba – Gabriele Viviani/Luis Cansino
Laura – Dolora Zajick/Ketevan Kemoklidze
Alvise – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo/Carlo Colombara
La Cieca – María José Montiel
Zuàne – Carlos Daza
Isèpo – Beñat Egiarte
Barnabotto/Pilot/Singer – Marc Pujol
While La Gioconda is not unknown to opera lovers, it is rarely performed. It has moments of great beauty, such as the arias ‘Cielo e mar’, ‘Suicidio!’ and ‘O, Monumento’, but the rest of the work does not reach the same heights, apart from some concertantes and, of course, the music for the ‘Dance of the Hours’ ballet. One problem is that the work is contemporary with the great Verdian operas, which means that it is devalued when compared to works by the genius from Busseto. If it can be difficult to program a Verdi opera, the difficulties are similar or even greater in La Gioconda which requires a dramatic soprano, a Verdi mezzo-soprano, an important lyric tenor and bass and a baritone of the so-called Verdians. And to all this one must add a contralto. Given these conditions, any theater will prefer to program Verdi.
This Pier Luigi Pizzi production, for which he also designed the sets and costumes, premiered here in October 2005. There is basically one stage for the whole opera which consists of bridges crossing the Venice canals with boats and gondolas passing. It is all quite attractive, and slight changes are made to the set in the various acts. For me, the costumes are the best part of the production, especially when it comes to the chorus clad in gray, black, white and red tones. The stage direction is fine, particularly in the ensemble scenes.
Conductor Guillermo García Calvo, one of the few Spanish conductors who conducts at the Staatsoper in Vienna, is the music director of the Chemnitz Opera, where he has conducted the Ring of the Nibelung on several occasions. His conducting here was effective throughout, helping the singers and carrying the work through without surprises.
Soprano Iréne Theorin, who was making her debut in the character of La Gioconda, had to cancel on the earlier days so this was the first performance she sang. I confess I had doubts about her suitability for this part, and the truth is that her performance was not satisfying. I find her much better in German opera, and particularly in Wagnerian roles, rather than in Italian opera. Her diction leaves something to be desired, and she has some problems in the high notes which can be rather uncontrolled. The second interpreter of La Gioconda was soprano Anna Pirozzi, whose performance was excellent, and definitely stronger than that of Iréne Theorin the day before. Pirozzi’s voice is wide and appealing, and she shines in a special way on the high notes.
Tenor Brian Jagde as Enzo Grimaldo in the first cast offered an engaging voice of a full lyric tenor though his singing can be somewhat monotonous – forte without much nuance. In the second cast, Stefano La Colla was unconvincing. As I have found in the past, he has an important voice but lacks expressiveness.
Gabriele Viviani was a good interpreter of Barnaba, the villain of the opera, with an ample and attractive voice.
Alvise was played by bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, who did well in terms both of singing and acting, while Carlo Colombara in the second cast was more modest.
Finally, mezzo-soprano María José Montiel gave life to La Cieca and was quite good, although it must be said that her voice is not that of a contralto. It is a pity she was not singing the part of Laura.
José M. Irurzun