Showing posts with label La Gioconda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label La Gioconda. Show all posts

31 August 2016

Amilcare Ponchielli - opera composer

Success of La Gioconda put musician on map

Amilcare Ponchielli composed 11 operas
Amilcare Ponchielli composed 11 operas
The opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli was born on this day in 1834 in Paderno Fasolaro, near Cremona, about 100km south-east of Milan in what is now Lombardia.

Ponchielli's works in general enjoyed only modest success, despite the rich musical invention for which he was later applauded.  One that did win acclaim in his lifetime, however, was La Gioconda, which was first produced in 1876 and underwent several revisions but remained unaltered after 1880.

Well known for the tenor aria, Cielo e Mar, and the ballet piece, Dance of the Hours, La Gioconda is the only opera by Ponchielli still performed today and many recordings have been made, featuring some of the biggest stars of recent times.

Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballe are among those to have played the role of Gioconda, written for soprano, while the lead tenor part of Enzo, whose affections are sought both by Gioconda and another major character, Laura, has been taken by Giuseppe Di Stefano, Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo among others.

Ponchielli had such a talent for music that he won a scholarship to Milan Conservatory at nine years old and had written his first symphony by the time he was 10.

He left the Conservatory in disappointment after being denied the professorship that was supposed to have been his prize in a competition and for a number of years his main musical occupation was as a bandmaster, at first in Piacenza and then Cremona.  He arranged and wrote more than 200 compositions for wind instruments.

The Milan Conservatory, which Ponchielli attended  from the age of nine years
The Milan Conservatory, which Ponchielli attended
from the age of nine years
His passion for opera was undiminished, however, and he achieved his first breakthrough with I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), an opera based on the novel by Alessandro Manzoni, which he had originally written soon after completing his studies and which earned him his first contract with a music publisher in 1872.

The original premiered at the Teatro Concordia in Cremona in 1856; the revised version was first performed at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan. The leading soprano role was taken by Teresina Brambilla, from Cassano d'Adda, just outside Milan, whom Ponchielli would marry.

Ponchielli wrote 11 operas in total but none won him the acclaim he received for La Gioconda, which was based on Angelo, Tyrant of Padua, a play by Victor Hugo.

Listen to Luciano Pavarotti performing Cielo e Mar from La Gioconda

Nonetheless, works such as Il figliuol prodigo and Marion Delorme, from another play by Victor Hugo, both performed at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, are recognised as having been influences on a new generation of composers from which Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Umberto Giordano emerged.

In 1881, Ponchielli was appointed maestro di cappella of Bergamo Cathedral, and from the same year he was a professor of composition at the Milan Conservatory, where his students included Puccini, Mascagni and Emilio Pizzi.

He died of pneumonia in Milan in 1886 and was buried in the city's Monumental Cemetery.

Travel tip:

Paderno Fasolaro, a small town in the heart of the Po Valley, is now known as Paderno Ponchielli in honour of its most famous native son.  It was given the name after local residents began a petition on the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1934, although it took until 1950 for the President of the Republic, Luigi Einaudi, to issue a decree making the change legal.

The cathedral at Cremona is a fine example of Romanesque style
The cathedral at Cremona is a fine
example of Romanesque style
Travel tip:

The city of Cremona has a strong musical tradition, particularly in the production of violins and other stringed instruments.  It was home to rival violin makers Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri and the Amati family.  Cremona has an exceptional Romanesque cathedral, with an ornate facade including a Renaissance logia with three niches, flanked by two orders of loggette (small logias).


15 June 2016

Lisa del Giocondo – the Mona Lisa

Florentine wife and mother who became a global icon

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci's Mona Lisa can be found
in the Louvre in Paris
Merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo, who has been identified as the model for the Mona Lisa, was born on this day in 1479 in Florence.

Her enigmatic beauty was immortalised by Leonardo da Vinci in the early part of the 16th century when he painted her portrait, a major work of art known as the Mona Lisa, which is now in the Louvre in Paris. 

The painting, sometimes known as La Gioconda, has become a global icon that has been used in other works of art, illustrations and advertising.

The face of the Mona Lisa belongs to a woman who was born as Lisa Gherardini into a well-off Tuscan family. When she was still in her teens she was married to Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a successful cloth and silk merchant who was much older than her. They had five children together. 

In 1503, when the couple were living in the Via della Stufa, it is thought Leonardo da Vinci started work on her portrait.

Francesco later became an official in Florence and is believed to have had connections with the Medici family.

In June 1537 he made provision for Lisa in his will, referring to the ‘affection and love of the testator towards Mona Lisa, his beloved wife.’

Lisa del Giocondo spent her final years at Florence’s Sant’Orsola convent, where she died in 1543 at the ago of 63.

In the painting, Leonardo portrays Lisa as a faithful wife, who is dressed fashionably to demonstrate her financial status.

He did not complete the portrait at the time because he started work on something else. It is thought he may have finished the painting in 1516 when he was living in France and that it was later acquired by King Francis I of France.

The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and taken to Asia and North America. It is now back in the gallery as part of the French national art collection and is visited by an estimated six million people a year.

The word 'Mona' in the title of the painting is a contraction 'Ma donna', a form of address similar to Madam or Ma'am or 'my lady' in English.  In Italian it is often spelled Monna.

Photo of No 23 Via della Stufa in Florence
No 23 Via della Stufa, which is thought to have
 been Lisa del Giocondo's home in Florence
Travel tip:

The house at number 23 Via della Stufa, where Francesco and Lisa lived with their children in Florence, is probably where Leonardo began work on the famous portrait. The street is just north of the Arno River, a short walk from the Basilica di San Lorenzo. 

Travel tip:

Lisa del Giocondo was known to have been buried in the grounds of Sant’Orsola convent after her death in Florence in 1542. The convent, which was built in 1309 as a satellite of San Lorenzo, has since been used as a factory and also a teaching facility for the University of Florence. In the 1980s the building was converted for the use of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s finance police. Remains since found in a grave under the concrete floor of the building were compatible with the period of Lisa’s death, but there was no way of proving definitively that they belonged to the beautiful subject of Leonardo’s 
Mona Lisa.

More reading:

Leonardo da Vinci - painter and inventor

(Photo of No 23 Via della Stufa by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)