Performed in the original Italian with Czech and English subtitles.
Premiere 4th February 2017, Janáček Theatre
Death in Venice.
Italian opera in the second half of the nineteenth century is nowadays inseparably linked above all with the names of Verdi and Puccini, but Amilcare Ponchielli, practically Verdi’s contemporary, should not fall into obscurity. A famous composer in his time and the teacher of Puccini, he wrote 10 operas, one of which, La Gioconda, is still performed. The Librettist Arrigo Boito worked from Victor Hugo’s play Angelo, Tyrant of Padua, but transferred the events of the story of the singer Gioconda to 17th century Venice. La Gioconda had its premiere at La Scala in 1876 with great success and Ponchielli was described by the critics as the only composer able to follow Verdi in the genre of grand opera. And the four‑act La Gioconda is truly a grand opera in the best sense of the word. This tragic affair of passionate and unrequited love, hatred, betrayal and revenge is ideal for the grand treatment. Big choruses, the famous ballet number Dance of the Hours, Enzo’s aria Cielo e mar or Laura’s prayer – all are musical moments representing the best of Italian opera.
The Lion’s Mouth
Venice at the beginning of the 17th century – a city in decline and hidden behind the carnival masks lies a network of inquisition spies. One of these, Barnaba, flows the crowds on St. Mark’s Square heading for the regatta. He is also watching the singer La Gioconda, whose favours he has vainly tried to win. La Gioconda arrives with her blind mother La Cieca. Barnaba once more tries to declare his feelings but is however brusquely rejected. La Gioconda departs to find her beloved, the Dalmatian captain Enzo, and leaves her mother to rest by the cathedral. Barnaba decides to make use of the elderly blind woman for his aims and incites the crowd, saying that she is a witch and has put a spell on a boat participating in the regatta. La Gioconda returns with Enzo, who tries to hold back the crowd attacking La Cieca. Order is restored with the arrival of Alvise Badoero, a member of the Venetian Inquisition, and his wife Laura. Laura defends the old woman and begs Alvise to show her mercy. La Cieca in her gratitude gives her rosary to Laura and her blessing. The sharp-eyed Barnaba notices that Laura and Enzo are not strangers to each other. He recalls that before she was forced to wed Alvis, Laura was engaged to the nobleman Enzo Grimaldi, who is now banished from the Venetian Republic. Barnaba realises that the young Dalmatian captain is Enzo Grimaldi.
Barnaba confronts Enzo and he admits that he returned to Venice to take Laura away. Barnaba offers that he will safely bring Laura to the ship. He is aware that La Gioconda is in love with Enzo and decides to make use of the lovers to his advantage. He dictates an anonymous letter intended for Alvise telling him of the infidelity of his wife and her plan to escape that night. He does not realise that his dictation of the letter has been overheard by La Gioconda. Barnaba places his letter of denunciation into one of the Lion’s Mouths dedicated to inquisition informers. The crowd returns to the square and continues in their celebrations.
On the deck of his ship Enzo awaits his beloved Laura. A boat arrives and the happy encounter of the lovers is only overshadowed by Laura’s distrust for Barnaba. Enzo leaves to prepare the ship to depart. La Gioconda has secretly followed Laura intending to revenge herself for Enzo’s betrayal. In the moment when the fight between the two women has culminated in La Gioconda trying to stab Laura a ship appears. Alvise and his men have followed Laura after Barnaba’s betrayal. La Gioconda’s blade is stopped by the rosary which Laura has in her hand. She recognises her mother’s rosary and realises that Laura must be the unknown woman who saved La Cieca from the mob. She sends Laura on her boat, so she can be taken to safety.
Enzo returns on deck, where he finds only La Gioconda. Alvise’s men are approaching and Enzo and his crew can only flee and set fire to their ship, so as not to fall into the hands of his pursuers.
The House of Gold
Alvise is holding a ball for a select company in his palace. Before the start of the celebrations he has decided to deal with Laura, who does not realise that her husband knows all. Laura arrives and Alvise tells her that she must drink poison before the song that can be heard from outside ends. La Gioconda has followed Laura to the palace and in the moment when the despairing Laura reaches for the poison restrains her hand. In place of the poison she gives her a bottle with a sleeping draught.
Alvise welcomes his guests and the revels begin with the Dance of the Hours. The merriment is interrupted by the tolling of the funeral bell. Alvise shows the shocked guests the catafalque with Laura’s body. Enzo, who entered the palace in secret, in despair reveals his true identity and is arrested by Alvise’s men. La Gioconda offers Barnaba her favours in return for saving Enzo.
The Orfano Canal
La Gioconda’s friends escort Laura’s body to her hiding place by the Orfano Canal. La Gioconda begs them to also search for her blind mother, who disappeared in the night. Enzo arrives and La Gioconda admits that she has Laura’s body. The infuriated Enzo, who has nothing to lose, wants to kill her, but in that moment he hears Laura’s voice. La Gioconda explains everything and helps the lovers to escape to safety. All that is left for her is to await the arrival of Barnaba, to whom she has promised herself in exchange for Enzo’s freedom. La Gioconda sees her only way out as suicide, and when Barnaba arrives, under the pretext of doing her toilette takes up her blade and stabs herself. The enraged Barnaba stands over her body and screams that in the night he drowned her mother. La Gioconda however already cannot hear him.