La Gioconda in Concert

Opera-Australia-La-Gioconda-photo-by-Keith-SaundersIt was a night of spectacular opera. The spectacle came not from lavish sets and costumes, but from the glorious voices of some of the best opera singers in the world, including the legendary tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, making a role debut, supported by the mighty Opera Australia Orchestra and full Chorus directed by Pinchas Steinberg.

Without the sets and costumes, with the opera presented in concert mode, the soloists making their entrances and exits in front of the orchestra, with the chorus seated in tiered rows behind; the audience was able to concentrate on the artistry of the singers and the beauty of Ponchielli’s majestic score, punctuated as it is with glorious solos, duets and choruses, with surtitles providing the information necessary to follow the gist of the turgid storyline.

Making her first Sydney Opera House appearances in the title role of La Gioconda, Spanish soprano, Saioa Hernandez was absolutely captivating. Tall and elegant with a commanding presence and silken soprano, Hernandez immediately established herself as the centre of the opera, among a cast of superb voices.

Australian mezzo, Deborah Humble as Gioconda’s cherished mother, La Cieca, charmed with her moving rendition of Voce de donna o d’angelo.

Mezzo, Agnieszka Rehlis, as Laura Badoero, Gioconda’s rival for Enzo Grimaldi’s affections shared a thrilling duet with Hernandez, L’amo come il fulgor creato, in which both women argue as to which has the greater love for Enzo.

Jonas Kaufmann as Enzo, was certainly worth fighting over, and while sounding just a little tentative at this performance, still lived up to expectations by offering a glorious interpretation of his solo Cielo e mar.

As the hateful Barnaba, Gioconda’s spurned suitor, French baritone, Ludovic Tezier, thrilled with his threatening presence and the steely timbre of his voice, particularly with his first act solo O Monumento.

As Laura Badoero’s husband, Alvise, Ukrainian bass, Vitalij Kowaljow, chilled with the price he demanded she pay for her unfaithfulness with his aria Si! Morir ella de!

The concert hall setting allowed a fascinating view of the care taken by Pinchas Steinberg to insure each of the soloists was wrapped in the most superbly balanced sound from the huge orchestra and chorus.

The audience could also share the joy he took in allowing those same resources let rip at the appropriate times. This was most evident in the superb rendition of the Dance of the Hours, which provided an orchestral highlight in the third act.

As this performance was being presented as a highlight of the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Opera House there was a spectacular fireworks display on the harbour during interval.

However not even the fireworks could match the stunning vocal pyrotechnics on display in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall stage at this unforgettable performance.

La Gioconda in Concert
Concert Hall – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Performance: Wednesday 9 August 2023
Season continues to 12 August 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: The cast of La Gioconda with the Opera Australia Orchestra in Opera Australia’s 2023 production of La Gioconda in Concert at the Sydney Opera House – photo by Keith Saunders

Review: Bill Stephens OAM