La Gioconda: Stella del marinar!
Amilcare Ponchielli (ah-meel-KAHR-ray pong-KYEL-lee, 1834-1886) was an unassuming but influential Italian composer and teacher whose students included Puccini, Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945), and Umberto Giordano (1867-1948). Ponchielli’s most famous work is the opera, La Gioconda (“The Happy Woman,” 1878, revised 1880), and especially its ballet music, The Dance of the Hours, which was choreographed for tutu-wearing hippos in Disney’s aminated feature, Fantasia (1940), and which also provided the tune for comedian Allen Sherman’s chart-topping paean to summer camp, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (1963).
Based on the play, Angelo, tyran de Padoue (1835) by Victor Hugo (1802-1885), and with a libretto by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918), La Gioconda is a complicated soap opera set in Venice against a backdrop of the 17th Century Roman Inquisition: “Gioconda” loves the exiled “Enzo” who, however, loves “Laura,” and Laura returns Enzo’s love—but since Enzo’s banishment Laura has been forced into an arranged marriage with “Alvise,” the local Inquisitor (and this isn’t even the complicated part…). Enzo has sneaked back into Venice, and Gioconda overhears him plotting to elope with Laura, so naturally Gioconda at first decides to stab Laura to death, but then opts to rat her out to Laura’s villainous spouse, Alvise.
Aboard Enzo’s ship, Laura prays for safe passage in Stella del marinar!, just before she is rudely interrupted by a disguised Gioconda: Will Gioconda have a change of heart when she realizes that it was Laura who saved her mother from being burned as a witch? Will Laura trick her husband by drinking a sleeping draft instead of poison? Will Gioconda end up in the arms of Alvise? Check out La Gioconda, on CD or DVD, for the answers to these and many more questions! (TIP: Two of these questions are true.)
--Intermezzo Sunday Concerts, November 18, 2007 (Bella Voce Cabaret)