Maria Callas, the ultimate operatic diva, sang the title role in La Gioconda
Opera composer Ponchielli’s work La Gioconda is the opera that put him in the history books, and to this day, on the concert stage. It’s a gigantic biblical melodrama and full of rich musical ideas, but it wasn’t a hit upon its premiere. It did, however, influence his students and future opera composers Puccini, Mascagni and Giordano.
Ponchielli is credited for expanding the role of the orchestra in opera, and wrote more complex music than before, when the orchestra’s role was more like a “musical backup band” than a full-fledged orchestra. Generally, most of his works did well enough to earn him popularity and influence during his lifetime.
You’ll recognize this ditty that originates from the opera, entitled “The Dance of the Hours”, which shows up in Disney’s Fantasia:
I have another video for you, below. This aria (the “big dramatic song”) takes place in a ruined palace in 17th century Venice. “La Gioconda” is the name of the opera’s heroine. Her life is a mess. She is in love with, and engaged to Enzo, who loves the married Laura, whom La Gioconda has saved from her nasty husband. La Gioconda offers herself to an evil spy to allow the couple to figure things out, and to top it all off, La Gioconda’s mother has gone missing. She contemplates her fate to escape her pain. (In other words – typical opera fare.)
Maria Callas, known for her unusual voice – not the usual “sublime” soprano, but one who brought proper drama and acting to the operatic stage, sings “Suicidio” in La Gioconda. This intense emotional stuff is right up her alley.
Amilcare Ponchielli was born August 31, 1834 in what is now Paderno Ponchielli (named after him in 1950) and died January 16, 1886 in Milan.