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04 April, 2004

La Gioconda - Ponchielli. Carnegie Hall, New York. Tues 20th April 2004

Gioconda: Aprile Millo
Enzo Grimaldo: Marcello Giordani
Laura: Mitena Kitic
Barnaba: Anooshah Golesorkhi
La Cieca: Sheila Nadler
Alvise: Luiz-Ottavia Faria
Opera Orchestra of New York, c. Eve Queller.
Dallas Symphony Orchestra Chorus

Dear Colleagues,

This was an ideal opportunity to hear top artists in an opera so rarely given in the theatre that many opera-goers have never seen it. The performers in this concert performance were allowed interactions, gestures, entrances, exits and a few props for the ‘semi-staged’ action, directed by Ira Siff. Aprile Millo put her ‘stamp’ on the title rĂ´le, both vocally and dramatically. Some of the actions seemed redundant, generally it was beneficial to have some movement, most notably Ms Millo’s terminal suicidal collapse. Somewhat awkward however was her subsequent uprighting for the already raucous applause.

I confess to reading a dozen internet reviews prior to writing this. Several were severely critical of the two flat high notes (one each from Millo and Nadler) and one omitted high C of Millo (in the final trio). I have no problem with such single deficiencies in otherwise excellent performances which were in evidence all round in this opera.

For each of the 3 Opera Orchestra of New York performances each year patrons are handed not only a program but also a bilingual libretto. This can be followed in a partially lit auditorium. Apart from rather cramped seating, the renovated venue is a large, acoustically friendly 4 tiered hall, just over 100 years old on 57th St and 7th Ave near Broadway and Central Park.

The audience was almost as interesting as the cast, including Renata Scotto, Barbara Cook, Harolyn Blackwell, Anna Moffo, Licia Albanese, Steven Blier, Rudy Giuliani, Placido Domingo, Daniel Sumegi and Victoria Livengood.

Anooshah Golesorkhi set the scene with his plotting song. A very capable baritone, originally from Iran, sings and acts this particular devil with flair and verve.

La Cieca was well sung and performed by Sheila Nadler. Her eyes seemed closed for most of the opera and she was led around by others, true to the semi-staged performance. Her fear, surprise and anguish were well portrayed in the vocal line and body language.

The stars of the night were undoubtedly Marcello Giordano, who New Yorkers cannot get enough of, and Aprile Millo who is also very popular here. Mr Giordani was getting over a cold and we were asked to make allowances. No signs of it showed when he opened his mouth, producing the most beautiful, natural, high tenor sounds from a native Italian (or Sicilian) speaker. His ‘Cielo e mar’ received a tremendous ovation which seemed to last nearly 3 minutes.
Millo is a phenomenon. Rather than a tight, long glittering dress, she might have looked better with a little additional fabric, suitably sewn. Appearances aside, Millo’s singing was stunning as she put care, thought, breath and voice into every phrase of her long part as the rejected ballad-singer of the opera.

The story is worthy of a Jerry Springer program with a two-timing wife (Laura, sung beautifully by Milena Kitic) of influential husband (Alvise as mellow-voiced Luiz-Ottavio Faria) and Gioconda smiling on, pretending that her elderly, blind mother is her main concern. Everyone is either in love with the tenor or jealous of him (this IS opera). And Jerry is played by Barnaba, master of ceremonies, with his dragoons in case anyone gets violent. Considering there is a near-poisoning, switched bottles, feigned death, resuscitation, double suicide (poisoning et stabbing), and an hourly jig as required of a work of this girth, we would need at least two episodes in my view. [end of parody!]

Ms Queller conducted in her usual style (or some might uncharitably say, with a lack of it). And most of her tempi were traditional, complimenting the opera perfectly well. She ‘saved’ one entrance for Ms Millo (there being no prompter and nobody was reading the music) with some words to catch up a lost line. Queller also indicated an accelerando in the second theme of the ‘dance of the hours’ which resulted in some of the orchestra going to almost doppio tempo in an unseemly display which, fortunately, was also quickly rescued. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Chorus of nearly 100 members filled the hall with glorious sounds as per Ponchielli’s master-score. A great night out in the Big Apple!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..