I've only seen Gioconda in concert before, and that was some time ago, but I do remember being fairly taken with it then. This recording really brings it to life. To start with, the conducting is superb - Viotti really revels in the score. and it is a score that rewards the attention he lavishes upon it. It is well-paces, has some tender moments as well as the thrilling grand opera scenes, and some touching melodies. Granted, the plot is fairly cardboard, but it does provide rich opportunities for a decent cast. Oh - and the biggest tune of the show, the "Dance of the Hours" - is delightfully fleet of foot.
I suppose the main draw of the cast is Domingo, for who Enzo provides no great focal hurdles. Perhaps there are moments of strain at the top of the voice, but Domingo is seasoned enough a performer to smooth over such imperfections. All the bravura sheen as well as the dusky heft in the lower reaches is still there, much as it was thirty years ago. He is so experienced in this type of heroic role that almost without effort he colours the notes and text with great imagination. A performance to treasure. Inevitably, the other men are a bit pallid next to him. Lado Ataneli is right enough for Barnaba, though I can imagine plenty of other baritones who would have the edge over him in focus and colour. And what on earth has happened to the once glorious voice of Roberto Scandiuzzi? Here he sounds like a comprimario singer - and a provincial one at that. A let down.
No let downs from the ladies, though. At the centre of her own show is the Gioconda of Violeta Urmana, everyone's favourite Kundry. I'm not sure she will ever sound like a dramatic soprano, but she shows no apparent strain in the tricky tessitura. the voice sounds large yet the texture is focused and bright, and she is extremely musical - she never screams (when many Giocondas do!) and is scrupulous with the dynamics. Luciana D'Intino has a gorgeous, velvety sound, even from top to bottom and makes a very appealing Laura - Act Two, with Domingo and Urmana both going full throttle, is just sensational. Elisabetta Fiorillo, completing the cast, sounds perhaps a tad too much like her daughter to be a truly convincing old Cieca, but her use of the text more than compensates.
So - a highly satisfying Gioconda which whets the appetite for a staging - if anyone can get their act together! Great for getting to know the opera and a fascinating set for those who already have Callas, Milanov or Marton stashed away.