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Amilcare Ponchielli

Amilcare Ponchielli

Amilcare Ponchielli's life

strong>Amilcare Ponchielli was born in 1834 in Paderno Fasolaro, now called Paderno Ponchielli after him, near Cremona. Ponchielli won a scholarship at an early age to study music at the Conservatory in Milan. He wrote his first symphony when he was only ten years old. However, his early career was somehow disappointing. He e took small-time jobs in small cities while composing several operas, none successful at first. In spite of his disappointment, he gained much experience as the bandmaster in Piacenza and Cremona, arranging and composing over 200 works for wind band.
He received a big success with the revised version of I promessi sposi in 1872, which made him gain a contract with the music publisher Ricordi & Co.
The ballet Le due gemelle (1873) confirmed his success. Although in his lifetime Ponchielli was very popular and influential, in introducing an enlarged orchestra and more complex orchestration, his best known opera is La Gioconda, the only one regularly performed today. The librettist Arrigo Boito adapted it from the same play by Victor Hugo. It was first produced in 1876 and revised several times.
It contains the famous ballet music "The Dance of the Hours", known even to the non-musical from its use in Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940).
In 1881, Ponchielli was appointed maestro di cappella of the Bergamo Cathedral as well as professor of composition at the Conservatory in Milan, where among his students were Puccini, Mascagni and Emilio Pizzi.He died of pneumonia in Milan in 1886.

Ponchielli's Operas

I promessi sposi (1856), Bertrando dal Bormio (1858), La Savoiarda (1861), Roderigo re dei Goti (1863), Il parlatore eterno (1873), I Lituani (1874), I mori di Valenza (1914), La Gioconda (1876), Il figliuol prodigo (1880), Marion Delorme (1885).


Ponchielli's Gioconda

La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli (1876, revised in 1880) is the grand-opéra of the Po Valley, with its excesses and language craziness (the libretto is by Arrigo Boito under the pseudonym Tobia Gorrio). It has fascinating and unforgettable melodies, culminating in the Dance of the Hours. In fact, Amilcare Ponchielli, one of Verdi's successors, has created a marvellous time bomb mechanism which conquers the audience with its captivating music and complicated plot, written with extreme knowledge. It almost resembles a penny dreadful; it is set in Venice at the time of Doges, in the Seventeenth Century, and could almost be seen as a summa of opera plots, like a “Everything you always wanted to know about melodrama but were afraid to ask”. Behind every corner of the callas there's a knife waiting for you, a dark mask, a betrayal to commit, a poison waiting to be drunk, a sacrifice to make in the name of love.
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