However, as this fails to convey the irony inherent in the original, the Italian is usually used. Each act of La Gioconda has a title. The villain Barnaba tries to seduce Gioconda, but she prefers death. When his amorous advances are firmly rejected, he exacts his revenge by denouncing the old lady as a witch whose evil powers influenced the outcome of the gondola race. It is only the intervention of a young sea captain that keeps the angry mob at bay. Calm is restored at the approach of Alvise Badoero, a member of the Venetian Inquisition, and his wife, Laura.
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The principal stage feature was an ankle-deep wading pond through which most of the characters sloshed rather than walking across the adjacent bridges. The fateful rosary given by La Cieca to Laura was so enormous it could have been a prodigious Papal pectoral cross or a garish costume crucifix carried by one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There was no bocca del leone in which to drop incriminating denunciations.
Barnaba then added the letters CX. Cutting Away Musically things were similarly irksome. Happily there was some impressive playing from the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, with the opening cello introduction being particularly luxuriant.
Flutes were fine in the chirpy festa passages but not particularly dulcet otherwise. Brass and percussion were rhythmically accurate but needed a lot more paprika.
The brief Preludio to Act four had powerful fortissimo string attack and a poignant clarinet solo. The Hungarian State Opera chorus sang with enthusiasm but had serious and multiple synchronization problems especially in allegro passages.
Loud, But Not Always Proud This was an entirely non-Italian cast with basically old-fashioned solid singing more shouty than subtle. Unsurprisingly the Italian diction was never more than mezzo-mezzo. The evil Barnaba was sung by veteran Romanian baritone Alexandru Agache who huffed and puffed and was generally more noisy than nuanced.
Agache has a tendency to slide to the upper register which diminished valid portamenti. Vocally this was the most consistent performance of the evening. There was real fire in the Act three denunciation of Laura. Morir ella de! Wobbling Through The Night Laura is a mezzo role with an important difference in timbre between the sposa infelice and the unhappier spinto street singer. The wobbles and whooping in the bitchy catfight about who loves Enzo the most were almost indistinguishable.
Looking more like a downtrodden hirsute deckhand than the Prince of Santafior, his stage presence was particularly bland. The aria felt labored and there was much better phrasing in the clarinet obbligato.
The soprano seems incapable of singing anything less than forte or fortissimo. The voice is certainly powerful, but diction was consistently defective with a tendency to blur the articulation and inject excessive vibrato. Even the fortissimo F-sharp on the first word of the text was flat. The crescendo-diminuendo markings were largely avoided and the lyrical middle section at the F-sharp major key change was far from dolcissimo.
Hungarian State Opera 2018-19 Review: La Gioconda
Libretto: La Gioconda