First Performance: 8 April 1876 at Teatro alla Scala,
|La Gioconda, a singer
|Laura Adorno, a Genoese lady
|Alvise Badoero, a member of the Inquisition and husband of
|La Cieca, Gioconda’s mother
|Enzo Grimaldi, a Genoese prince disguised as a sea captain
|Barnaba, a spy for the Inquisition disguised as a singer
|Zu‡ne, a competitor in the Regatta
|IsËpo, a public scrivener
Setting: Venice, 17th Century.
Act I [“The Lion’s Mouth”]
Grand courtyard of the Ducal palace, decorated for festivities. At back,
the Giant’s Stairway, and the Portico della carta, with a doorway
leading to the interior of St. Mark’s Church. On the left, the table of a
public letter-writer. On the right, one of the historic Lion’s Mouths,
with the following inscription cut into the wall in black letters:
FOR SECRET DENUNCIATIONS TO THE INQUISITION AGAINST ANY PERSON, WITH
IMPUNITY, SECRECY, AND BENEFIT TO THE STATE.
It is a splendid afternoon in spring. The stage is filled with
holiday-makers, monks, sailors, shipwrights, masquers, etc., and amid the
busy crowd are seen some Dalmatians and Moors.
Barnaba, leaning his back against a column, is watching the people. He has
a small guitar, slung around his neck.
The populace gaily sings, “Feste e pane” (Sports and feasting). They dash
away to watch the regatta, when Barnaba, coming forward, announces that it is
about to begin. He watches them disdainfully. “Above their graves they are
dancing!” he exclaims. Gioconda leads in La Cieca, her blind mother. There is
a tender duet between them: “Figlia, che reggi il tremulo” (Daughter, in thee
my faltering steps).
Barnaba is in love with the ballad singer, who has several times repulsed
him. She is in love with Enzo, a nobleman who has been proscribed by the
Venetian authorities, but is in the city in the disguise of a sea captain.
His ship lies in the Fusina Lagoon.
Barnaba again presses his love upon the girl. She escapes from his grasp
and runs away, leaving her mother seated by the church door. Barnaba is eager
to get La Cieca into his power in order to compel Gioconda to yield to his
sinister desires. An opportunity soon arises. For, when the regatta is over,
the crowd returns, bearing the victor in triumph. With them enter Zuane, the
defeated contestant, Gioconda, and Enzo. Barnaba subtly insinuates to Zuane
that La Cieca is a witch, who caused his defeat by sorcery. The report
quickly spreads and the populace becomes excited. La Cieca is seized and
dragged from the church steps. Enzo calls upon his sailors, who are in the
crowd, to aid him in saving her.
At the moment of greatest commotion the palace doors swing open, revealing
Alvise and his wife Laura, who is masked. Alvise sternly commands an end to
the rioting, then descends the stairs with Laura.
Barnaba, with the keenness that is his as chief spy of the Inquisition,
observes that, through her mask, Laura is gazing intently at Enzo, and that
Enzo, in spite of Laura’s mask, appears to have recognized her and to
be deeply affected by her presence. Gioconda kneels before Alvise and prays
for mercy for her mother. When Laura also intercedes for La Cieca, Alvise
immediately orders her freed. In one of the most expressive airs of the
opera, “Voce di donna, o d’angelo” (Voice of woman, or of angel), La
Cieca thanks Laura and gives her a rosary, at the same time extending her
hands over her in blessing. She also asks her name. Alvise’s wife,
still masked, and looking significantly in the direction of Enzo, answers,
“’Tis she!” exclaims Enzo.
Everyone, save Barnaba and Enzo, enters the church. The observant Barnaba
has seen through Enzo’s disguise as a sea captain and addresses him by his
name and title, “Enzo Grimaldo, Prince of Santa Fior.” He reveals the whole
story: Enzo and Laura were betrothed, then separated, and Laura forced to wed
Alvise. Though neither had seen the other again since the meeting a few
moments before, their passion still is as strong as ever. Barnaba cynically
explains that in order to obtain Gioconda for himself, he wishes to show her
how false Enzo is, and promises him that he will arrange for Laura, on that
night, to be aboard Enzo’s vessel, ready to escape with him to sea.
Enzo departs. Barnaba summons one of his tools, Isepo, the public
letter-writer, whose stand is near the Lion’s Mouth. At that moment
Gioconda and La Cieca emerge from the church, and Gioconda, seeing Barnaba,
hides with her mother behind a column. She overhears the spy dictate a letter
to Isepo, informing an unspecified person that his wife plans to elope that
evening with Enzo. Having thus learned that Enzo no longer loves her,
Gioconda vanishes with her mother into the church. Barnaba drops the letter
into the Lion’s Mouth. Isepo goes. The spy, as keen in intellect as he
is cruel and unrelenting in action, addresses in soliloquy the Doge’s
palace. “O monumento! Regia e bolgia dogale!” (O monument, palace and den of
The masquers and populace return, singing and dancing “La Furlana.” In the
church a monk and then the chorus chant. Gioconda and her mother come out.
Gioconda laments that Enzo has forsaken her. La Cieca seeks to comfort her.
In the church the chanting continues.
Act II [“The Rosary”]
Night. A brigantine, showing its starboard side. In front, the deserted
bank of an uninhabited island in the Fusina Lagoon. In the farthest distance,
the sky and the lagoon. A few stars visible. On the right, a cloud and a
rising moon. In front, a small altar of the Virgin, lit by a red lamp. The
name of the brigantine — “Hecate” — painted on the prow. Lanterns on the
At the rising of the curtain sailors are discovered; some seated on the
deck, others standing in groups, each with a speaking trumpet. Several cabin
boys are seen, some clinging to the shrouds, some seated. Remaining thus
grouped they sing a Marinaresca, in part a sea-chanty in part a regular
In a boat Barnaba and Isepo appear, disguised as fishermen. Barnaba sings
a fisherman’s ballad, “Ah! Pescator, affonda l’esca” (Ah,
fisherman, lower the net).
He has set his net for Enzo and Laura, as well as for Gioconda, as his
words, “Some sweet siren, while you’re drifting, in your net will coyly
hide,” imply. The song falls weirdly upon the night. The scene is full of
Enzo comes up on deck and gives a few orders; the crew go below. He then
sings the famous “Cielo! e mar!” (O sky, and sea) — an impassioned voicing
of his love for Laura, whom he awaits. The scene, the moon having emerged
from behind a bank of clouds, is of great beauty.
A boat approaches. In it Barnaba brings Laura to Enzo. There is a
rapturous greeting. They are to sail away as soon as the setting of the moon
will enable the ship to depart undetected. There is distant singing. Enzo
goes below. Laura kneels before the shrine and prays, “Stella del mariner!
Vergine santa!” (Star of the mariner! Virgin most holy).
Gioconda steals on board and confronts her rival. The duet between the two
women, who love Enzo, and in which each defies the other, “L’amo come
il fulgor del creato” (I adore him as the light of creation), is the most
dramatic aria in the score.
Gioconda is about to stab Laura, but stops suddenly and, seizing her with
one hand, points with the other out over the lagoon, where a boat bearing
Alvise and his armed followers is seen approaching. Laura implores the Virgin
for aid. In doing so she lifts up the rosary given to her by La Cieca.
Through it Gioconda recognizes in Laura the masked lady who saved her mother
from the vengeance of the mob. Swiftly the girl summons the boat of two
friendly boatmen who have brought her tinder, and bids Laura to escape. When
Barnaba enters, his prey has evaded him. Gioconda has saved her. Barnaba
hurries back to Alvise’s galley, and, pointing to the fugitive boat in
the distance, bids the galley start in pursuit.
Enzo comes on deck. Instead of Laura he finds Gioconda. There is a
dramatic scene between them. Venetian galleys are seen approaching. Rather
than allowing his vessel to be captured, Enzo sets fire to it.
Act III [“The House of Gold”]
A room in Alvise’s house. Alvise sings of the vengeance he will
wreak upon Laura for her betrayal of his honour. “Si! morir ella de’”
(Yes, to die is her doom).
He summons Laura. Nocturnal serenaders are heard singing offstage, as they
travel in gondolas along the canal. Alvise draws a curtain and reveals a
funeral bier erected in the next chamber. He hands Laura a vial of
quick-acting poison, telling her to drink it before the serenaders sing their
last note. He will leave the room, and when the song ends, he will return to
find her dead.
When he has gone, Gioconda, who, anticipating the fate that might befall
the woman who saved her mother, has been in hiding in the palace, hastens to
Laura, and hands her a flask containing a narcotic that will create the
semblance of death. Laura drinks it, and disappears through the curtains into
the funeral chamber. Gioconda pours the poison from the vial into her own
flask, and leaves the empty vial on the table.
The serenade ends. Alvise re-entering, sees the empty vial on the table.
He enters the funeral apartment for a brief moment. Laura is lying, seemingly
dead, upon the bier. He believes that he has been obeyed and that Laura has
drained the vial of poison.
The scene changes to a great hall in Alvise’s house, where he is
receiving his guests. Here occurs the “Dance of the Hours,” a ballet suite
which, in costume changes, light effects and choreography represents the
hours of dawn, day, evening, and night. It is also intended to symbolize the
eternal struggle between the powers of darkness and light.
Barnaba enters dragging La Cieca, whom he has found concealed in the
house. Enzo also has managed to gain admittance. La Cieca, questioned as to
her purpose in the House of Gold, answers, “For her, just dead, I prayed.” A
hush falls upon the fÍte. The passing bell for the dead is heard slowly
tolling. “For whom?” asks Enzo of Barnaba. “For Laura,” is the reply. The
guests shudder. “D’un vampiro fatal l’ala fredda passo” (As if
over our brows a vampire’s wing had passed), chants the chorus. “Gia ti
vedo immota e smorta” (I behold thee motionless and pallid), sings Enzo.
Barnaba, Gioconda, La Cieca, and Alvise add their voices to an ensemble of
great power. Alvise draws back the curtains of the funeral chamber, which
also gives upon the festival hall. He points to Laura extended upon the bier.
Enzo, brandishing a poniard, rushes upon Alvise, but is seized by guards.
Act IV [“The Orfano Canal”]
The vestibule of a ruined palace on the island of Giudeca. In the
right-hand corner an opened screen, behind which is a bed. Large porch at
back, through which are seen the lagoon, and, in the distance, the square of
Saint Mark, brilliantly illuminated. A picture of the Virgin and a crucifix
hang against the wall. Table and couch; on the table a lamp and a lighted
lantern; the flask of poison and a dagger. On a couch are various articles of
mock jewelry belonging to Gioconda.
On the right of the scene a long, dimly lit street. Two men advance,
carrying Laura in their arms, who is enveloped in a black cloak. The two
cantori (street singers) knock at the door. It is opened by Gioconda, who
motions them to place their burden upon the couch behind the screen. As they
go, she pleads with them to search for her mother, whom she has not been able
to find since the scene in the House of Gold.
She is alone. Her love for Enzo, greater than her jealousy of Laura, has
prompted her to promise Barnaba that she will give herself to him, if he will
help Enzo to escape from prison and guide him to the Orfano Canal. Now,
however, despair seizes her. In a dramatic soliloquy — a “terrible song,” it
has been called — she invokes suicide. “Suicidio!. . . in questi fieri
momenti to sol mi resti” (Suicide! the sole resource now left me). For a
moment she even thinks of carrying out Alvise’s vengeance by stabbing
Laura and throwing her body into the water — “for deep is yon lagoon.”
Through the night a gondolier’s voice calls in the distance over the
water” “Ho! gondolier! Hast thou any fresh tidings?” another voice, also
distant: “In the Orfano Canal there are corpses.”
In despair Gioconda throws herself down weeping near the table. Enzo
enters. In a tense scene Gioconda excites his rage by telling him that she
has had Laura’s body removed from the burial vault and that he will not
find it there. He seizes her. His poniard already is poised for the thrust.
She hopes for the ecstasy of dying by his hand.
At that moment, however, the voice of Laura, who is coming out of the
narcotic, calls, “Enzo!” He rushes to her, and embraces her. In the distance
is heard a chorus singing a serenade, the same tune as in Act III. Both Laura
and Enzo now express their gratitude to Gioconda. The girl has provided
everything for their escape: two of her friends will row them in a small boat
to a larger, awaiting barque. What a blessing, after all, the rosary that an
old blind woman bestowed upon the queenly Laura has proved to be. “Che vedo
la! Il rosario!” (What I see there! The rosary!), sings Gioconda, while Enzo
and Laura voice their thanks: “Sulle tue mani l’anima tutta stempriamo
in pianto” (Upon thy hand thy generous tears of sympathy are falling). The
scene works up to a powerful climax.
Gioconda is alone once more, and remembers her agreement with Barnaba. She
is ready to flee, when the spy himself appears in the doorway. Pretending
that she wishes to adorn herself for him, she begins putting on the mock
jewelry, and, utilizing the opportunity that brings her near the table,
seizes the dagger that is lying on it.
“Gioconda is thine!” she cries, facing Barnaba, then stabs herself to the
Bending over the prostrate form, the spy furiously shouts into her ear,
“Last night thy mother did offend me. I have strangled her!” But no one hears
him. La Gioconda is dead. With a cry of rage, he rushes down the street.
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image_description=Bocca di Leone
first_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
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second_audio_name=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
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product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
product_by=Leyla Gencer (Gioconda), Luisa Bordin Nave (Laura), Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise), Mirna Pecile (Cieca), Umberto Grilli (Enzo), Mario Zanasi (Barnaba), Paolo Badoer (Zu‡ne), Giovanni Antonini (Singer), Guido Fabbris (IsËpo), Umberto Scaglione (Pilot), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice, Oliviero de Fabritiis (cond.)
Live recording, 1 January 1971, Venice