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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    La Gioconda at Deutsche Oper Berlin

    La Gioconda - Opera in 4 acts, sung in Italian, with German surtitles
    Music by Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 – 1886)
    Libretto by Tobia Gorrio [Arrigo Boito], loosely based on the play "Angelo, tyran de Padoue" by Victor Hugo (1835)
    First performance on 8th April, 1876 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan

    Das Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin conducted by Pinchas Steinberg
    Der Chor und der Extra-Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Chorus Master Jeremy Bines
    Das Opernballett der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Choreographer Gudrun Leben

    Director - Filippo Sanjust
    Costume design - Filippo Sanjust
    Set design - Original decorations from the time of the original work in 1876 (Scenografia Camillo Parravicini, Roma)

    Cast

    La Gioconda - Hui He
    La Cieca - Judit Kutaslov
    Alvise Badoero - Ievgen Orf
    Laura - Daniela Barcellona
    Enzo Grimaldo - Alfred Kim
    Barnabà - George Gagnidze
    Zuàne / A singer / 2. Gondola Navigator - Philipp Jekal
    A helmsman / Sexton - Byung Gil Kim
    Isèpo / 1. Gondola Navigator - James Kryshak

    This review is of the last performance of the run, on July 7, 2018 at 18:00 (4h 30' with three intermissions), attended in person.

    This article is part of the Opera Lively coverage of opera houses in the German-speaking area of Central Europe in the Summer of 2018 - see the links to numerous other reviews, interviews, pictorial blogs, and other articles related to this coverage, by clicking [here]

    The Opera is situated in 17th century Venice. La Gioconda, singer in a traveling troupe, falls in love with the young noble Enzo, who is respectively in love with Laura, the wife of the inquisitor Alvise Badoero. The emotional entanglement grows even more complex with the numerous intrigues of Barnabà, the spy who loves and desires Gioconda and tries to win the singer over, by all means. Torn between her love for Enzo and her care of her blind old mother who always travels with her, she is caught up in Barnabà's web of hatred and passion that entraps her ever more tightly; ultimately, there is no escape. After Enzo has overcome various obstacles and managed to escape with Laura, disappearing from her life, Gioconda sees no way out. Barnabà who believes that his desire is about to be fulfilled cannot prevent her from ending her life.

    Amilcare Ponchielli, born in 1834 in Paderno Fasolaro near Cremona, died in 1886 in Milano. He became famous mainly for his LA GIOCONDA, although he had written twelve other operas. Love, passion, hatred, you name it - there is everything in the story of the singer Gioconda that a lover of the great Italian opera would expect. Arrigo Boito who years later was to write the libretti for OTELLO and FALSTAFF, the final two masterpieces by Verdi, had no real reason for writing the text of La Gioconda under the pseudonym of Tobia Gorrio. He transposed Victor Hugo's novel, “Angelo, tyrant of Padua“ into a comprehensive operatic text full of suspense and effects. Here you will encounter luscious melodies, moving rustic scenes on the stage, and above all the decor characterized by its opulence, with some original pieces from the opera period.

    Ponchielli combined French and Italian operatic virtues with La GIOCONDA. From Italy he took the pure feelings expressed in melodies, with the trapped passions of love, hatred and vengeance. From France, he adopted the Grand-Opéra format, with extensive use of ballet, the very famous Dance of the Hours.

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    Production Pictures from a previous run - Photo Credits Deutsche Oper Berlin 2014 Bettina Stöss, except the first one which is from 2003, Bemd Uhlig; we do see the same artist in the title role, Hui He.

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    Review of the Performance

    A Blast from the Past

    On the occasion of my last visit to Berlin two years ago in the summer of 2016, I arrived after the end of the Deutsche Oper Berlin season, so I was only able to attend performances by the Staatsoper and the Komische. I am aware that our fellow Opera Lively journalist James Wieber is very fond of the Deutsche, so when I realized that this time I'd get here on the very last day of their season, I did make a point of attending the show.

    I confess that I had low expectations... This is a very, very old, shall we say, even ancient production, revived multiple times. Other than Ganidze and Barcellona, I had never heard the other singers. But then I thought, oh well, at least I'll get to visit the Deutsche and see what my friend Jim is crazy about.

    Thankfully I did! To my deep surprise, this was one of the top three performances of this trip, so far (I am at number 10 now, 6 more to go.

    It seems like I entered a time traveling portal. This is opera like it was done in 1974 when this production premiered, and even further back, the sets were recovered from the original ones when the opera was first given in 1876!

    So, I was expecting a dusty and boring show... and it was just the very opposite of it!!!

    Yes, intentionally or not, even the acting style recovers what was done before the HD era and the acting lessons for opera singers in most conservatories and universities: these singers tonight just stood there, faced the audience, and sang. I won't say "park and bark" because it's a pejorative (and this was not barking, but actually, sublime singing), but you get my point.

    Then, why was it so good?

    First of all, these sets are beautiful!!! The production pictures shown here don't even start doing justice to the sets. The color saturation is wrong, and most pictures are taken from a close distance, not showing the various sets for the different scenes. Believe me, my friends, live at the opera house, they look stunning! And the costumes are equally luxurious.

    Second, I've rarely seen such a well-danced ballet in an opera production. Usually there is a reason why the main ballet company in a major city is autonomous, and the opera only lists a "corps de ballet." One imagines, often accurately, that the very great dancers are the ones who are members of the major company, while the ones who couldn't get a job there and had to settle for the opera company, are second rate. Well, apparently this is not the case of Das Opernballett der Deutschen Oper Berlin. These are very accomplished dancers, and they look good too! The choreography was delicate and extremely well executed, like we see in the very good classical ballet ensembles.

    Third, the singing was simply phenomenal. I've recently reviewed the Bayerische Staatsoper's Parsifal, and was amazed at the homogeneous high quality of the singers, down to the smallest comprimario role. It was the case tonight as well. There wasn't a single artist that issued a singing note, who didn't do it perfectly.

    I'm not especially fond of George Ganidze, who seemed to phone in some of his performances at the Met. Tonight there was no phoning in. He delivered his best night among the ones I've witnessed, with great Italianate phrasing and style. Alfred Kim, previously unknown to me, also did a great job, and Ievgen Orlov wasn't far behind.

    The two ladies were phenomenal. First of all, I had the pleasure of running backstage during the intermission between the third and fourth acts to interview Daniela Barcellona in person in her dressing room, and what a charming and friendly lady with an engaging personality! She was simply fabulous in this brief and rushed interview (we only had 15 minutes before the opera staff started asking us to wrap up because she was needed again); I wish we had more time, because I wouldn't mind chatting at length with this warm and nice artist! I shook hands with her husband too, and complimented, "Sir, your wife is wonderful!" Her singing was top notch tonight.

    Hui He delivered a tour-de-force in the title role. There isn't a need to say anything else: I doubt that we can find any other La Gioconda out there in activity right now that can be said to do any better.

    There is no reason to score each singer individually because they all achieved A++ across the board. Flawless ensemble of singers!

    And the colors! Oh, the colors! Emotion after emotion was rendered expertly by these talented artists.

    The orchestra was incredible too, and the veteran conductor Pinchas Steinberg couldn't be any better in supporting the singers and dancers, always with the perfect dynamics.

    This was one of those rare shows were all theatrical and musical elements are hugely satisfactory from beginning to end. It's a long opera. It started at 6 PM and ended at 10:40 PM, but there wasn't a second of boredom.

    The public reacted with "oohs" and "aahs" several times and often erupted in applause, including recognizing the beautiful sets when the curtains opened for each scene. I've rarely heard so many shouts of "Bravo" and "Brava" during and after the performance, and the ovation at the end went on an on, with a delirious audience expressing a lot of love and gratitude for this great show. There is a reason why this production continues to be revived for 44 years: it's because it is very good.

    So, here is proof that traditional productions don't need to be boring. It's a question of quality, and the Deutsche Oper Berlin has this ingredient up the roof. This is as substantial and hard to stage as French Grand Opéra, given the large number of extras, the ballet, the big chorus, and the several different scenes, not to forget the need to keep all these musicians paid for their four hours of work. It is not any company that can stage this opera so competently, and the Deutche Oper Berlin is definitely one of them.

    Given that no element scored any lower than A++, that's also the overall score for the show (the maximum one). I'll keep fond memories of this evening, and I'll need to make sure that next time I come to Berlin even earlier and catch some more Deutsche Oper productions.

    And to think that the other two companies in town are just as good! It's really a privilege for an opera lover to live in Berlin.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 8th, 2018 at 01:05 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Three curtain call pictures:

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    The four principal singers, Alfred Kim, Hui He, Daniela Barcellona, and George Ganidze, Opera Lively picture
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Great review, Luiz! Your observations are, as usual, interesting and fun to read, especially since my take on this production - when I saw it several years ago - was very different. I found the opera itself difficult to warm up to, and didn‘t much like the stiff cardboard sets (I believe I said that this opera is an obvious example of an opera that screams out for Regie treatment, or something along those lines). I also noted that it seemed as if most of the audience was there only to see the ballet and didn‘t care much for the opera.

    It is possible that the company had an off night when I saw the production - or, of course, that your trusty reporter, himself, had an off night...

    I am so glad that you had a good experience and were delighted by the performance. I have become increasingly fond of the Deutsche Oper and have come to appreciate evenings there as providing outstanding singing and very interesting productions with interesting perspectives on some ‚warhorses‘ - as well as some traditional productions, like La Gioconda (their Tosca is another, dating to 1969, I believe) that have stood up to the test of time.

    We have started scouring the schedules of the three companies for next year (unfortunately, most of the below are earlier next year, in May and June - no July performances are yet listed for any of the companies). I‘m already salivating...

    Deutsche Oper Berlin

    Tannhäuser (Stephen Gould, Simon Keenlyside)
    Der Fliegende Holländer (Catherine Foster, Iain Patterson)
    Rienzi (Torsten Kerl)
    Lohengrin (Camilla Nylund)
    La Sonnambula (Pretty Yende, Lawrence Brownlee)
    Otello (Russell Thomas, George Gagnidze in a production by Andreas Kriegenburg)
    Don Quichotte (with my new favorite, Alex Esposito - I don‘t think this opera is staged very often)

    Staatsoper

    Pelleas et Melisande (Rolando Villazon and Luca Pisaroni..)
    Rigoletto, (Michael Fabiano, Christopher Maltman and Nadine Sierra)
    Tristan und Isolde (Andreas Schager, Rene Pape and Anja Kampe)

    Komische Oper

    Die Tote Stadt (!) production by Barrie Kosky
    Der Rosenkavalier
    Petruschka/Les Enfants Sortileges (combination of a ballet with an opera? Who else does this?)
    The Fair at Sorochyntsi (Mussorgsky)
    Poro (Handel)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yes, they are cardboard sets, and the opening one in Venice is not that successful... (and unfortunately it is the only one included in the production pictures, but it still looks better in person than on this picture)... but they are also very beautiful especially when you consider that these are the original sets from the real premiere of this opera in the late 19th century. So I'm sure they did it like this not because they can't build more realistic sets, but because they wanted to pay homage to the original work and wanted to reproduce the feeling of how opera was done 142 years ago. You need to relate to these cardboard sets like when you are in a museum. See those maquettes and dioramas we see in opera museums like the one at La Scala and the one in Salzburg? Well, now, we can see a real-sized one. If you think of it this way it's pretty cool! We've seen Baroque staged with original sets; it's similar.

    And no, this audience was definitely not just there for the ballet! They were acknowledging the singers several times (and rightly so; they all sang superbly).

    Maybe it is in function of it being the last show of the season... maybe the true opera lovers come to say farewell to the company's season; but I found this particular audience very engaged in the operatic aspects. And the ballet was great too!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I'm glad you liked Daniela Barcellona. She's on my list of "If she's in it I'll watch/listen to it". She has an enchanting smile so I'm glad that her personality lives up to it.
    Natalie

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soave_Fanciulla View Post
    I'm glad you liked Daniela Barcellona. She's on my list of "If she's in it I'll watch/listen to it". She has an enchanting smile so I'm glad that her personality lives up to it.
    Yes, definitely. During the entire interview she smiled a lot (very charming smile indeed!); one gets the feeling that she is a really good and nice person; she comes across very genuine, non-diva-like (she actually said so). I'm getting to a head count of about 280 artists interviewed, and she is up there with the very best in terms of engaging personality.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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