Grandiose ‘Gioconda’ in Spain

BARCELONA – A grandiose, international artistic event, a collaboration between the three major opera houses of the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona, the Teatro Real of Madrid and the Arena di Verona that took place recently also included a Greek name on its bill: maestro Loukas Karytinos, director of the Greek National Opera. (At least in a way, as the conductor resigned from the post last July and the deputy minister of culture insists that he is expecting him to take on duties at the opera.) The production was Amilcare Ponchielli’s «Gioconda,» directed by the magical Pier Luigi Pizzi, who also designed the sets and costumes, with lighting by a master of the art, Sergio Rossi. The cast was also A-list: Deborah Voigt and Susan Neves alternating in the tile role and Elisabetta Fiorillo and Mariana Pentchev as Laura, as well as Ewa Podles, Elena Zaremba and Richard Margison, among others. The production premiered at the magnificent Gran Teatre del Liceu, an architectural gem from 1849, on La Rambla Avenue. Recently renovated (in 1999) following a fire that shut its doors for five years, the Liceu – whose name has also been adopted by the Barcelona Opera, one of the world’s leading ensembles – will see its 2,000 seats filled to capacity when it stages productions such as «Gioconda.» What made this production especially remarkable was not just its cast and crew, but the simple fact that it was a really fantastic performance. It was so fantastic that not once did it get tedious, despite its four-hour duration (with two intermissions). Pizzi has worked wonders: Gray in all its scales and everywhere – in the sets, the costumes, the overall atmosphere. Dashes of white and black here and there and blood-red in parts of a few costumes, such as a cape or the sails of the ships in Act II. The only blue is Gioconda’s dress and that is electric. The aesthetic result is impressive and reverberates in the supple rhythm of the performance and exquisite deliveries. But the real show-stealer was «The Dance of the Hours,» which is also the most popular musical part of the opera. Gheorghe Iancu’s choreography, set at the top of a tall, broad staircase, was out of this world. The performance of the 12 ethereal women representing the hours was magical, though special mention needs to be made of the two soloists – naked, save for a small strip of elasticized material – Letizia Giuliani and Angel Corella, wildly applauded by the audience. The choir was also without fault and the orchestra of the highest caliber, conducted by Karytinos with a combination of sensitivity and power for three of the 12 performances (the others were conducted by Danielle Callegari). The Greek maestro was invited by the production company after they saw him conduct the same opera at Livorno last year in a co-production with the Greek National Opera. This production is also due to come to Greece, opening on November 11 at the National Opera. On a note of local interest, Karytinos, who had previously conducted the Rovigo Opera in «La Forza de Destino,» returned to Greece, but did not return to the helm of the National Opera. «None of the conditions that compelled me to resign have changed,» he said upon his return. «And the state is not interested in the National Opera. What they want is a clerk who’ll do a few things here and there and pay people their wages. I have neither the time nor the inclination to be a clerk.»