The manipulative Barnaba is obsessed with Gioconda, and will do anything to get her for himself. He attempts to send her mother to prison for witchcraft. His plan is thwarted when Laura Badoero speaks out in defense of the old, blind lady, and is given a rosary as a sign of gratitude.
Barnaba spots Enzo Grimaldo, a prince from Genoa, trying to hide amongst a group of sailors, and knows that this will make things more difficult for him, as Gioconda is madly in love with Enzo. Enzo, on the other hand, is still in love with Laura, to whom he was once engaged. Barnaba concocts a plan to reunite Laura and Enzo, and help them to escape together. That way, Gioconda will be free for Barnaba’s taking. But Barnaba realises that having Enzo and Laura far away from him is not enough. He writes to Laura’s husband, Alvise Badoero, one of the leaders of the Inquisition, certain that his learning the truth of their betrayal will result in their deaths.
Meanwhile, Gioconda learns of Laura’s plan to escape with Enzo, she follows them and attacks Laura, intending on killing her. As Gioconda raises the knife to stab her, she sees the rosary that her own mother gave to Laura and cannot go through with it: this is the woman who saved her mother’s life. Instead, she does everything she can to ensure Laura’s safety.
When Laura is captured and forced to commit suicide by her husband, Gioconda changes the vial of poison for a powerful sleeping draught. She has Laura’s body brought back from her tomb, and negotiates for Enzo’s freedom by promising to marry Barnaba. Laura recovers from the effect of Gioconda’s sleeping draught, and is reunited with Enzo. Gioconda helps the two of them escape, and remains behind to face Barnaba.
She decides to try and escape, but is not fast enough, and Barnaba catches her. Gioconda will not submit to a man like Barnaba, and instead chooses suicide. She grabs a knife and stabs herself in front of him. Barnaba is furious, and in one final attempt to regain his power, tells Gioconda that he drowned her mother last night.
With its ironic title, La Gioconda (The Happy Woman), is a grand opera of immense proportions, which requires five incredible principle singers to do the challenging vocal writing justice. La Gioconda is Ponchielli’s most well-known opera, and stands proudly alongside other Italian opera of the 19th century.
La Gioconda guide sections