La Gioconda Synopsis

Amilcare Ponchielli's Four Act Opera

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Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda premiered on April 8, 1876, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It quickly became one of the major Italian operas at a time when Verdi's compositions were extremely popular. The story takes place in 17th century Venice. 

La Gioconda, Act 1, The Lion's Mouth

Barnaba, a spy for the Inquisition, watches and observes La Gioconda during a pre-Lent carnival celebration at the Doge's palace while a regatta race takes place on the canal.

As La Gioconda escorts her blind mother, La Cieca, across the town square, Barnaba quickly approaches her and bluntly asks her out. La Gioconda refuses his oppressive advances, so he angrily proclaims that her mother is an evil old witch who caused the less-than-favorable outcome of the races. The townsfolk are easily persuaded, and an angry, fearful mob quickly forms. Thankfully, Enzo Grimaldo, a young sea captain whom La Gioconda loves, is able to stave off the crowd. The mob finally dissipates with the arrival of Alvise Badoero, the head of the Inquisition, and his wife, Laura. Laura sees that La Cieca is being treated poorly, so she graciously brings her under her own protection. Moved by Laura's gratitude, La Cieca gives Laura her rosary, an item she greatly treasures. Barnaba has been watching with hawk-like vision and notices something strange between Laura and Enzo. Within moments he recalls that long before Laura's arranged marriage to Alvise, she was once deeply in love with Enzo and engaged to him.

Seeing that there may still be some chemistry between them, Barnaba is convinced he can prove Enzo's unfaithfulness to La Gioconda with hopes to win her over. After everyone departs the square, Enzo and Barnaba stay behind. Barnaba tells Enzo that he can help reunite the forlorn lovers. Enzo confesses that Laura is the only reason he has returned to Venice.

He hopes to take her back and live a new life far away from there. Barnabas tells him he can arrange a private meeting with Laura on Enzo's ship that very night. Despite knowing Barnaba's disingenuous intentions with La Gioconda, Enzo is quick to allow him to set up a meeting with Laura, and he quickly rushes off to his ship. Barnaba, now alone to ponder his own evil scheme, calls over a scribe to dictate a letter to Alvise. Barnaba warns him that his wife is planning to escape with her previous fiance. La Gioconda overhears Barnaba and is brokenhearted by what he says. Barnaba drops the letter into the Lion's Mouth, a secret drop point for Inquisition communication.

La Gioconda, Act 2, The Rosary

Disguised as a fisherman, Barnaba prepares to take Laura to Enzo's ship on a small row boat. Enzo impatiently awaits for Laura's arrival. As he stares off at the horizon, he sings of the beauty of the sky and sea. Barnaba delivers Laura as promised and the two lovers passionately embrace. Barnaba departs with a smirk on his face. Laura's excitement turns to seriousness as she feels something isn't quite right. She doesn't trust Barnaba, but Enzo assures her that they will set sail soon and start a new life together.

When Enzo disappears below deck to prepare to embark, La Gioconda steps out of the shadows and onto the deck. La Gioconda, holding a knife lunges at Laura, and the two fight over Enzo. When La Gioconda has the upper hand, she begins a downward motion with the knife to stab Laura. All of a sudden, she sees Laura desperately clasping her mother's rosary. La Gioconda throws away the knife and quickly changes heart. La Gioconda knows that Alvise and his men are on their way to stop Laura, so she decides to help her escape using the small boat La Gioconda used to get to the ship. After sending her away, La Gioconda stays behind and tells the oblivious Enzo, that Laura has left him. She tries to convince him to stay with her instead, but his love for Laura grows stronger every minute. When Alvise begins to fire cannons at his ship, Enzo sets his ship on fire and dives into the lagoon.

La Gioconda, Act 3, The Ca’ d’Oro

Back at the Ca' d'Oro palace, Laura, who has been captured by Alvise's men, meets with her husband. After vowing to take her life because she betrayed him, he orders her to drink the poison he has prepared for her before the townspeople are finished singing their song in the streets below. After he leaves her alone, La Gioconda sneaks into the room, having followed Laura once more. She exchanges the poison with a sleeping solution to mimic death and tells Laura that she will help her be with Enzo.

In the ballroom, Alvise presents a ballet to a large number of guests he's invited to his palace. Barnaba and Enzo, both disguised as nobility, take their place among the crowd. Barnaba keeps La Cieca with him after finding her praying inside the palace. Moments pass and the funeral bells begin ringing. As the undulating bells echo across the town, a small procession carries Laura's body through the ballroom. Enzo loses it and sheds his disguise, and Alvise's men apprehend him. La Gioconda rushes up to Barnaba and offers to be with him as long as he helps save Enzo from Alvise. Barnabas agrees to her terms but keeps La Cieca as a hostage.

La Gioconda, Act 4, The Orfano Canal

In La Gioconda's room in her ruined palace on an island, La Gioconda's friends carry in the sleeping Laura, who they retrieved from her burial tomb. When Enzo is brought in, having been released from prison thanks to Barnaba, he is distraught by Laura's lifeless body. Driven mad with anger, he nearly kills La Gioconda for what she has done.

As he takes out a knife to stab La Gioconda, Laura finally awakens from her deep sleep and calls out to Enzo. When he realizes that La Gioconda has aided in bringing the two lovers back together, he thanks her and escapes with Laura. La Gioconda now has to deal with the problem of Barnaba. When he arrives demanding her to fulfill her part of the bargain, she stalls for time by singing and adorning herself with all kinds of jewelry, while secretly hiding a dagger underneath the jewels. When he presses her into submitting to him, she dares him to take her. With one swift movement, La Gioconda stabs herself and falls to the floor. Barnaba, evil to the core, tries to inflict one last wound to La Gioconda by telling her he drowned her mother the night before, but she has already died and doesn't hear him.

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