The New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera debuts Amilcare Ponchielli’s magnificent work, La Gioconda, replete with complex plots and intrigue, on Sunday, April 17 at 3:00 p.m. at the Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), located at 30 North Van Brunt Street, in Englewood, New Jersey.
“Verismo Opera’s La Gioconda is overflowing with human passions–real life protagonists and antagonists. Lovers of opera rarely get to see this opera produced. This production is more thrilling than anything I have ever seen. The costumes are grand, and the sets are magnificent. The great stage designer, Sormani, whose work graces opera houses around the world, created the exquisite sets in our production. Ponchielli’s music was way ahead of his time! This is pure verismo,” says Artistic Director Lucine Amara.
Based on Angelo, Tyrant of Padua by Victor Hugo, the story takes places in the magical city of Venice, during the seventeenth rule of the doges. Under the direction of Stage Director and Canadian soprano Evelyn La Quaif, the fully staged production in four acts is set to Arrigo Boito’s Italian libretto. The cast sings in Italian, and English supertitles are provided for the audience.
The Verismo Opera Chorus, led by Chorus Director Mara Waldman, and the cast perform under the direction of the company’s new principal conductor, Cuban born Lucy Arner. “I am very excited to begin my relationship with the New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera, a company that specializes in presenting the verismo and bel canto operas that are so close to my heart. To make my debut with La Gioconda, an opera that is on every opera conductor’s ‘bucket list’, is an added bonus. The score is brilliant and full of orchestral color, and three of the leading roles sing arias that everyone loves to hear, from the hauntingly beautiful “Voce di donna” to the tenor and soprano war horses, ‘Cielo e mar’ and ‘Suicidio!'” explains Arner.
The cast features several vocalists who have performed before with Verismo Opera. Canadian soprano Sharon Azrieli Perez will assume the role of Gioconda. Previously, she appeared with the company as Mimi in La Bohème, Aida in Aida and Leonora in Il Trovatore. Andrew Porter from The New Yorker describes her as “a mistress of merry inflections, piquant phrasing, and pointed words.”
Lyric mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna joins the company as Laura Adorno. She is no stranger to Verismo Opera, having sung the roles of Mercedes in Bizet’s Carmen and Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, as well as receiving first place in the organization’s 2001 annual international vocal competition. Peter G. Davis from New York Magazine states she “effectively stole the show as Ernestina, offering a prototype of the classic quick-witted Rossini heroine with a heart of gold as well as showing off her warm, secure mezzo-soprano to maximum advantage.”
Singers returning to the company are baritone YoungJoo An as Barnaba, mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova in the role of La Cieca, and bass Nathan Resika as Alvise Badoera. An, a South Korean native, received the second prize in the New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera’s 2013 Annual International Vocal Competition and debuted with Verismo Opera in La Bohème as Marcello. This past fall, he appeared as Lord Enrico Ashton in the company’s production of Lucia Di Lammermoor. Originally from the Ukraine, Ivannikova performed with the Kiev Conservatory Opera and appeared in Verismo Opera’s Aida, Il Trovatore, and Cavalleria Rusticana. Previously, Resika performed in Verismo Opera’s La Bohème and last year, he appeared in Amore Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Newcomers to the Verismo Opera stage are tenors Rick Agster appearing in the roles of Zuane and Steersman and Paolo Buffagni, born in Modena, Italy, as Enzo. Other singers performing in this new production are baritone James Moy as Monk and tenor Giovanni Simone, from Mola di Bari, Italy, as Isepo, a Scribe.
Artistic director and choreographer Cherylyn Lavagnino and the Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance Company debut with Verismo Opera to perform the prominent ballet scene, Dance of the Hours, in the finale of act 3. Lavagnino has toured nationally as a soloist with the Pennsylvania Ballet and performed a range of classical repertoire and contemporary work by choreographers such as George Balanchine and John Butler. Her choreography has been presented at Jacob’s Pillow, Kaatsban International Dance Center, Intermezzo Dance, and The Joyce Theatre’s “Evening Stars” series.
Tickets are on sale for La Gioconda and may be purchased online or at the bergenPAC box office, and by calling (201) 227-1030 or toll-free at 1-888-PACSHOW. The organization’s Bring the Family to the Opera’s final discount, 30 percent off on $55 and $45 tickets, is available only on March 31 and April 1 and 2, 2016 with promotion code (GI02). Special discount ticket rates for senior citizens, children, and groups are available through April 17. Senior citizens receive a 10% discount on any regular priced ticket. The company is offering a reduced rate of $10 on all tickets for children, ages 12 and under. Special senior citizen and children’s discount ticket rates are available at the box office only and must be requested before the purchase. For special rates for group sales only, call (201) 224-2809. Discount tickets are not available for purchase online.