“La Gioconda” is a grand opera in four acts, the words by Arrigo Boito and the music by Amilcare Ponchielli. It is an adaption of Victor Hugo’s drama, “Angelo,” and was first presented at La Scala, Milan, April 8, 1876.
La Gioconda, a ballad singer. La Cieca, her blind mother. Laura, wife of Alvise. Barnaba, a spy of the Inquisition. Alvise Badoero, one of the heads of the State Inquisition. Zuane, a boatman. Enzo, a Genoese Noble. Isepo, a public letter-writer. A pilot, monks, senators, sailors, shipwrights, ladies, gentlemen, populace, masquers.
The action takes place in Venice in the Seventeenth Century. When the opera opens there is shown the court-yard of the ducal palace, decorated in honor of a regatta and filled with people in holiday attire. Among them is a gay, light-hearted street-singer, La Gioconda, who brings her blind mother, La Cieca, to her accustomed seat near the church. She is observed by Barnaba, who makes some advances and is repulsed by the girl. Undaunted, he plots to get the mother into his power, thereby securing the daughter. He tells Zuane, who has been unsuccessful in the boat-race, that his defeat has been caused by the evil influence of La Cieca, who is a witch. The report spreads and the populace demands her death. Enzo arrives opportunely to protect her, and to quiet the mob. The grateful daughter is already in love with Enzo, whom she believes to be a mercantile captain. Alvise and Laura now come upon the scene and La Cieca is freed by the intercession of the latter, who receives the rosary of the blind woman in token of her gratitude.
Laura, who still loves Enzo, her former lover, not withstanding her recent marriage to Alvise, exchanges many eloquent glances and at last a word with him, watched by Barnaba. He manages to whisper to Enzo that Laura will be on board the ship Hecate at nightfall during her husband’s visit to the Council but he is overheard by La Gioconda. Barnaba then hastens to send a message to Alvise warning him that his wife is about to elope.
We next meet the characters on Enzo’s vessel. The sailors are carousing and Barnaba and his fellow spy, Isepo, the public letter-writer, are disguised as fishermen. Laura joins Enzo on board and they decide to sail during the night. When Enzo goes below to complete his preparations, La Gioconda creeps upon Laura to slay her but, when the latter holds up the crucifix in appeal, the ballad singer remembers that it was this woman who had aided her mother. She resolves on giving tangible proof of her gratitude. She gives her masque to Laura and, summoning a boat, sends her away before the arrival of her husband.
Alvise determines to kill Laura the following night. He gives her a vial of poison to drink but during his momentary absence from the room, La Gioconda, who is aware of his purpose, rushes in and administers to the wife a powerful narcotic, emptying the flask of the poison. When he returns Laura is unconscious and Alvise believes that his revenge is complete.
The scene then changes to a grand fête, where Alvise is among the revelers. Barnaba drags in his victim, La Cieca, whom he has found in one of the reserved apartments, praying for “her who is just dead.” The guests are horrified but Alvise laughs. Enzo, who has heard that Laura has been killed, denounces Alvise and is seized by the guard. Gioconda promises Barnaba to be his if he will save Enzo; and he agrees. Alvise opens the curtains of Laura’s chamber and shows her stretched upon her bier, vowing that he has taken her life to avenge his outraged honor.
In the last act, Laura wakes at last to call Enzo’s name. She and her freed lover escape in a boat provided by the street-singer. Left alone, La Gioconda remembers her compact with Barnaba and resolves to fly. As she is praying to the Virgin for deliverance from her fate, he overhears her from the half open door. When he con-fronts her, she smiles and tells him that she will keep her word but she must array herself to do him honor ; and, while he waits, delighted, she seizes a dagger and stabs herself, saying, “I have sworn to be thine. Take me, I am thine.”
“La Gioconda” met with success and had in Italy one of the greatest runs known in Italian opera history.
Among the famous numbers in the opera are La Cieca’s song in the first act, “Voce di donna o d’ angelo ” (” Voice of Woman or of Angel fair “) ; Enzo’s passionate romanza, ” Cielo e mar” (” Heaven and Sea”); the finale to the third act, the widely-known ballet, “The Hours” and, in the fifth act, as Gioconda plans to escape from Barnaba by death, her song, “Per te voglio ornare” (” For thee fain I’d prepare”).