Franco Corelli & Ponchielli’s ‘La Gioconda:’ A Surprisingly Limited Engagement

By David Salazar

When you look at the body of work of the great tenor Franco Corelli, you might well imagine that Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” to be a prominent role in his repertoire. The tenor role of Enzo is substantial and his dramatic weight is suitable to Corelli’s vocal talents.

And you would be right, to a certain extent.

But the tenor, whose birthday on April 8, 1921, coincides with the opera’s premiere on April 8, 1876, had a very limited relationship with Ponchielli’s famous work.

The Metropolitan Opera

In fact, he only performed it at the Metropolitan Opera throughout his storied career, except for two performances (more on that in a second).

He did perform it quite extensively at the Met. In fact, the Met’s Archives lists him as having 24 performances of the work between 1962 and 1968.

The first performance took place on March 9, 1952, with Zinka Milanov and Robert Merrill. Corelli would appear in the opera twice more, once with Milanov and another time with Eileen Farrell. That performance has been released commercially.

He would take on the opera again in 1966 with Renata Tebaldi and Cornell MacNeil in a new production created for the new house in Lincoln Center. The tenor would perform another eight times that season with Tebaldi at the Met. But he would sing the work with the company on tour another seven times in such cities as Philadelphia, Detroit, Minneapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Memphis.

His relationship with the opera at the Met would take place a year later as he sang four performances of the opera. Two shows featured Tebaldi while the final two were with soprano Milka Stojanovic. His final performance of the opera would take place on March 12, 1968.

Fun fact: every single performance of “La Gioconda” that Corelli sang was conducted by one man – Fausto Cleva.

2 Philadelphia Performances

Now about those two performances, I mentioned earlier.

On Feb. 18, 1964, the tenor performed the opera with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera with a cast that included Mary Curtis-Verna and Mignon Dunn. He also performed the opera in the same city on Oct. 18, 1966, with Tebaldi and Dunn. Anton Guadagno conducted both performances.

The 1964 performance was released commercially by the Bel Canto Society alongside 71 minutes of the latter performance.

Here is the great tenor singing the work’s famous aria:


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