Two years after leaving the conservatory he wrote his first opera -- it was based on Alessandro Manzoni's great novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) -- and it was as an opera composer that he eventually found fame.
His early career was disappointing. Maneuvered out of a professorship at the Milan Conservatory that he had won in a competition, he took small-time jobs in small cities, and composed several operas,none successful at first. In spite of his disappointment, he gained much experience as the "capobanda" in Piacenza and Cremona, arranging and composing over 200 works for wind band. Notable among his "original" compositions for band are the first-ever concerto for euphonium (Concerto per Flicornobasso, 1872), fifteen variations on the Neapolitan song "Carnevale di Venezia," and a series of festive and funeral marches that resound with the pride of the newly unified Italy and the private grief of his fellow Cremonese. The turning point was the big success of the revised version of I promessi sposi in 1872, which brought him a contract with the music publisher G. Ricordi & Co. and the musical establishment at the Conservatory and at La Scala. The ballet Le due gemelle (1873) confirmed his success.
The following opera, I Lituani (The Lithuanians) (1874), was also well received, being performed later at Saint Petersburg (as Aldona - November 20, 1884). His best known opera is La Gioconda, which his librettist Arrigo Boito adapted from the same play by Victor Hugo that had been previously set by Mercadante (Il Giuramento, 1837) and Carlos Gomes (Fosca, 1873). It was first produced in 1876 and revised several times. The version that has become so popular today was first given in 1880.
In 1876 he started working on I mori di Valenza (the project dates back to 1873), an opera he never finished, although it was completed later by Arturo Cadore and performed posthumously in 1914.
After La Gioconda, Ponchielli wrote the monumental biblical melodrama in four acts Il figliuol prodigo (Milan, Teatro alla Scala, December 26, 1880) and Marion Delorme, from another play by Victor Hugo (Milan, Teatro alla Scala, March 17, 1885). In spite of their rich musical invention, neither of these operas met with the same success but both exerted great influence on the composers of the rising generation, like Puccini, Mascagni and Giordano.
In 1881, Ponchielli was appointed maestro di cappella of the Bergamo Cathedral, and from the same year he was a professor of composition at the Milan Conservatory, where among his students were Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni.
He died in Milan and was interred there in the Cimitero Monumentale.
Although in his lifetime Ponchielli was very popular and influential, in introducing an enlarged orchestra and more complex orchestration, the only one of his operas regularly performed today is La Gioconda. It contains the great tenor romanza "Cielo e mar", a wonderful duet for tenor and baritone "Enzo Grimaldo" , the soprano set-piece "Suicidio!" and the ballet music "The Dance of the Hours", known even to the non-musical from its use in Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940), burlesques by Allan Sherman ("Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh", 1963), in the children's record Gossamer Wump (released in 1949 by Capitol Records), and Spike Jones (1949), and, to a lesser degree, the 1966 Perrey and Kingsley song, "Countdown To 6."
|1856||I promessi sposi, op. 2||melodramma||4 acts||30 August 1856, Cremona, Teatro Concordia, (revised) 5 December 1872, Milan, Teatro Dal Verme||Giuseppe Aglio and Cesare Stradivari after Alessandro Manzoni|
|1858||Bertrando die Bormio||4 acts||scheduled for Turin but unperformed|
|1861||La Savoiarda, op. 4, revised as Lina||dramma lirico||3 acts||19 January 1861, Cremona, Teatro Concordia, (revised) 17 November 1877, Milan, Teatro Dal Verme||Francesco Guidi|
|1863||Roderigo re dei Goti||3 acts||26 December 1863, Piacenza, Teatro Municipale||Francesco Guidi|
|1873||Il parlatore eterno, op. 6||scherzo comico||1 act||18 October 1873, Lecco, Teatro Sociale||Antonio Ghislanzoni|
|1874-?||I mori di Valenza, op. 8||dramma lirico||4 acts||completed by Annibale Ponchielli and Arturo Cadore; 17 March 1914, Monte Carlo||Antonio Ghislanzoni|
|1874||I Lituani, op. 7||dramma lirico||3 acts||7 March 1874, Milan, Teatro alla Scala (revised) 6 March 1875, Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Antonio Ghislanzoni|
|1876||La Gioconda||dramma lirico||4 acts||8 April 1876, Milan, Teatro alla Scala, (revised) 18 October 1876 Venice, Rossini, (revised) 27 November 1879 Genoa, Politeama Genovese||Tobia Gorrio (pseudonym of Arrigo Boito) after Victor Hugo's drama Angelo, tyran de Padoue|
|1880||Il figliuol prodigo, op. 10||melodramma||4 acts||26 December 1880, Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Angelo Zanardini|
|1885||Marion Delorme, op. 11||melodramma||4 acts||17 March 1885 Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Enrico Golisciani|
A night at the opera ; Feeling out of your 'aria'? Don't! Operas such as the classic `La Boheme,' at the Camden Opera House, were written for regular folk, too.
Dec 18, 2003; STEPHANIE BOUCHARD News Assistant Portland Press Herald (Maine) 12-18-2003 A night at the opera ; Feeling out of your 'aria'?...