Making its Israeli debut, Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda or The Ballad Singer will open at the Israel Opera May 15 and run through the 30th. The revival director is Marguerite Borie and the conductors are Asher Fisch and Omer Welber with libretto by Arrigo (Mefistofele) Boito (who writes under Tobia Gorrio, an anagram of his name). La Gioconda is operatic melodrama at its most florid. The plot is taken from Victor Hugo's The Tyrant of Padua, except that the opera is set in Venice. Barnaba (baritones Jonathan Summers, Alexandru Agache) is an agent for the Inquisition and is in love with La Gioconda (sopranos Michele Crider, Victoria Safronova). She is in love with Enzo (tenors Hugh Smith, Vladimir Kuzmenko), a Genoese nobleman disguised as a sea captain because he's forbidden to be in Venice. He's in love with Laura (mezzos Laura Brioli, Tiziana Carraro), the unwilling wife to Alvise (basses Paata Burchuladze, Ayk Martirossian), a VIP in the Inquisition. Attempting to get Gioconda into his grasp, Barnaba pins an accusation of witchcraft onto her mother, La Ciesca (mezzos Tea Demurishvilli, Svetlana Sandler), but thanks to Laura's intervention, the old woman is released. In the meantime, sizzling looks have been exchanged between Laura and Enzo. Surprise, surprise! Barnaba has seen them. From here on, until the soprano's inevitable demise, things get very complicated. Fortunately, we get the "Dance of the Hours"- yes, the one in Fantasia that features the dancing hippos.