|Act II, Arena di Verona, 2005|
Photo: Maurizio Brenzoni
So, Gioconda may not belong to my favorite operas; but I've still enjoyed getting to know it. Looking past the exclamations, there are plenty of other points of interest in the libretto, the role of religion and religious language not being the least. The mezzo, for instance, sings a prayer to the Virgin for protection in her elopement with a man who is not her husband: "You know how much faith has brought me here..." Not being carried away by the drama, I invested more of my energy in looking for musical structure, motifs, how mood changes were indicated, and how conflict was built. My biggest "aha" moment: that the blind woman handing over her rosary to the mezzo is not merely a schmaltzy gesture, but will become "a profound prophecy," according to the libretto, and a motif repeated in the orchestra at Significant Moments. Aha aha aha. And though the characters may not undergo any transformation to speak of, they do get exciting music. Enzo's entranced "Cielo e mar" and Gioconda's wildly despairing "Suicidio!" are famous showpieces, but some of my favorite moments in the opera are where these over-the-top characters confront each other (or declare eternal love, but usually confront each other.) The soprano and mezzo get a truly fierce vocal battle over who loves the tenor more, whom the tenor loves, and whether or not the soprano will kill the mezzo! The Evil Baritone gets a rollicking fishing song to add verisimilitude to his Act II disguise. There's a love duet, too. The Act III finale is a fine example of Everyone Being Alarmed And Horrified In Beautiful Music. So, there's a lot to like. It just may be necessary to put objections to melodrama even more firmly aside than usual when watching the madness unfold.