Composer Profile: Amilcare Ponchielli, Child Prodigy Turned Composer of ‘La Gioconda’By David Salazar
Amilcare Ponchielli, born on August 31, 1834, was a compositional child prodigy.
He was born in Paderno Fasolaro and was admitted to the Milan Conservatory at age nine on a scholarship he earned. By the age of 10 he already written his first symphony and a few years after leaving the conservatory, he wrote his first opera. His second work, “I Promessi Sposi” came when he was but 22 years of age.
Shockingly, despite his immense ability at an early age, Ponchielli didn’t really manage much success until he revised “I Promessi Sposi” in 1872. Now he was 38, but he had finally made it. From there he continued to build on his track record as a composer, eventually becoming a professor of composition at the Milan Conservatory.
Unfortunately, he died at the age of 52 of pneumonia. Paderno Fasolaro is now known as Paderno Ponchielli.
Ponchielli’s name only survives today thanks to one opera – “La Gioconda.” And that work, which was far more popular in the mid-20th century remains noted today for a few musical numbers, most notably “The Dance of the Hours.”
The opera itself is a tour-de-force for the soprano and tenor leads and was a major vehicle for such artists as Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Violetta Urmana, Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi, and Eva Martón, among others.
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Watch and Listen
Here’s a recording of “La Gioconda” starring Maria Callas.