REVIVAL OF NOTE: La Gioconda at the Deutsche Oper

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Don’t expect any dancing hippos in the Deutsche Oper’s rare revival of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. The company has dusted off Filippo Sanjust’s 1972 staging, an insistently grand, old fashioned production that features sumptuous two-dimensional scenery of Venice, floating gondolas, wildly oversized puppets and a luxurious wardrobe of silk capes and flowing satin gowns. In fact, much of the decoration comes from period Italian productions of the late Nineteenth Century, provided by Scenografia Camillo Parravicini in Rome. I have no idea how long it’s been since Ponchielli’s melodramatic behemoth has graced a Berlin stage. 

Once among the most popular operas in the repertoire, Gioconda has not aged well. It is the sin qua non of operatic excess, the Italian response to French Grand Opéra, the popular 19th-century operatic genre that lost out historically to Verdi and Wagner. As befits an opera of excess, there are six leads (one for each voice register). The four acts are crammed full of goodies: a bloodthirsty mob, arson, poisoning, a prince in disguise, a blind mother, murder, terrible curses and suicide. Don’t think too hard or rationally about what’s going on: chances are you’ll get hung up on the glaring holes in plot, the inconsistencies and the preposterous coincidences. Even if the themes it treats are fundamentally human, the histrionics of plot, dialogue, character and score make Gioconda hard to take seriously. Still, there’s little denying what a gripping spectacular entertainment it is. The excess here makes one agree that sometimes more is more: more principles, more peripateias, more raw emotion, more thrills and chills. Conductor Jesús López Cobos makes sure the dramatic momentum doesn’t flag, even when the work is at its least dramatically coherent or musically unified, which is no small feat.

The Deutsche Oper has put together a tremendous cast of mostly guest singers most of whom ham things up to best possible effect. Tenor Marcelo Álvarez is among the best as Enzo Grimaldo and his searing rendition of the famous aria “Cielo e mar” earned him a well-deserved ovation. Among the women, Hui He in the title role and Marianne Cornetti as her rival Laura were well-matched in outsized vocal brilliance. Baritone Lado Ataneli was pitch-perfectly evil as the conniving Barnaba, while ensemble members Ante Jerkunica and Dana Beth Miller rounded out the cast effectively as Badoero and La Cieca.  

The production is so beautifully, committedly in love with its own archaic style and the 2-D storybook sets of Venice seem appropriate. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this relic of grand opera gone mad in an edgier production. So, in lieu of dancing hippos and alligators we get a controlled and expertly refined ballet for the justly-famed Dance of the Hours, one of the highlights of this long, immersive evening that (insanely) comes with THREE intermissions, which are presumably necessary for the elaborate scene changes.   

REMAINING PERFORMANCES: 

So 2. Februar 201417:00 Uhr/ D-Preise: € 122,– / 89,– / 64,– / 38,– / Karten kaufen

Do 6. Februar 201418:00 Uhr/ C-Preise: € 90,– / 72,– / 50,– / 29,– / Karten kaufen / Zum letzten Mal in dieser Spielzeit

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