University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

University of Hartford

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Ponchielli: La Gioconda

10/20/2019 1:00 pm
10/20/2019 4:30 pm

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Everybody at one time or another has heard Ponchielli's famous ballet music "The Dance of the Hours" from the opera La Gioconda. It made a splendid soundtrack for a humorous scene in Walt Disney's classical music cartoon Fantasia. And who of my generation could forget Alan Sherman's comic song, "Hello muddah, hello faddah…"? Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda (1876) is one of the few really grandiose grand operas of the mid nineteenth century to survive in the international repertoire into the twentieth century. The opera has long been in the repertoire in Italy. It has been revived from time to time in some of the world's great opera houses, and it has been well recorded.

There are four LP recordings of it in our WWUH classical music record library. I chose the oldest one for broadcast way back on Sunday, September 3, 1989. It was recorded in early stereo sound in 1960 at La Scala and is of historic interest at the very least because that Diva of Divas Maria Callas, was the starring soprano. La Gioconda tells a tragic tale of marital infidelity and political intrigue in Venice in the days when the Doges ruled like dictators over a great maritime empire. La Gioconda was Ponchielli's one claim to international operatic fame, although he wrote plenty of other operas.

Rather than rebroadcast the Callas Gioconda, I turn from those vintage EMI/Angel LPs to another boxed set of RCA Victor Red Seal vinyl discs, released in 1965, which features the cast of the Metropolitan Opera, with Fernando Previtelli conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome. This was a great era in the history of the Met, and what a lineup of illustrious voices of the past! Soprano Zinka Milanov stars as the ballad singer known as La Gioconda.