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Leoncavallo Zingari ORC61
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Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919)
Zingari, dramma lirico in two episodes
(Reconstructed original 1912 version)
Fleana, young daughter of the old Roma leader – Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano)
Radu, a young nobleman – Arsen Soghomonyan (tenor)
Tamar, a Roma poet – Stephen Gaertner (baritone)
Old man, leader of the Roma tribe – Łukasz Goliński (bass-baritone)
Opera Rara Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi
rec. 2021, Fairfield Concert Hall, London
Italian libretto with English translation; notes in English; synopses in English, French, German & Italian

Attractively presented on a single CD in a cardboard clamshell case with a booklet containing a long, comprehensive and very informative essay by Ditlev Rindom, a synopsis in four languages and a full Italian libretto with English translation, this new issue is catnip for opera-lovers in search of unjustly neglected works. It has all the verismo elements which made Pagliacci such a hit twenty years earlier but whose pre-eminence Leoncavallo never replicated, despite some modest success with a few subsequent works: sex and violence, an earthy but exotic setting and a pyrotechnic conclusion like a budget-version Götterdämmerung. Zingari can, in fact, be accounted to have been an international success during Leoncavallo’s lifetime but after his death the critical view increasingly prevailed that it was an inferior imitation of Pagliacci and deserved to be passed over. This recording is the result of a reconstruction of lost orchestral parts of the score combined with the surviving vocal score, in an attempt to present something as close as possible to its premiere in the Hippodrome, London, who commissioned the opera after a successful run of Leoncavallo conducting Pagliacci.

There are only four solo roles and a chorus, so, like Il trovatore, all we need is the “four greatest singers in the world” for it to make its mark. That is obviously a facetious and redundant observation, but I could certainly wish that three of the four voices here were rather more distinguished, the exception being Stephen Gaertner’s firm, virile baritone. He really is the only one of the four principals with a proper, pharyngeal core to his tone. He provides by far the best singing and it his contribution I most enjoy; his “Canto notturno”, rightly encored at the premiere, is a highlight – and that perhaps because it is somewhat reminiscent of Beppe/Arlecchino’s serenade in Pagliacci. The fact that it is reprised verbatim towards the end of the opera indicates that Leoncavallo knew that he had written a winner there.

Unfortunately, Krassimira Stoyanova sounds too old for the Carmen-type role of Fleana; she is by no means awful but her soprano now turns screechy under pressure. Tenor Arsen Soghomonyan is coarse, harsh and shouty, as may be heard in the top notes of “Principe!”, his opening aria, and the bass is windy of tone with a pulsing vibrato; both men are without a firm centre to their voices.

In addition to Tamar's aria, there is some nice scene-setting music, but not all the score is on that level; even from the opening forging scene the melody is lively enough but not as inventive as in Pagliacci, and that is almost the case throughout and many of the choruses are banal. Irritating though it must have been for the composer, such comparisons are inevitable. One waits in vain for a really cohesive, memorable tune such as that first aria for Radu’s should and could have been; the love duet for him and Fleana in the First Episode never really takes off and is a pale imitation of the similar Silvio-Nedda encounter in Pagliacci, further compromised by the singers’ vocal inadequacies, especially as Fleana’s extended passage beginning “Cuore mi dolce” lies in a high tessitura where her voice is least alluring and Soghomonyan’s top notes are so husky that they are lost and subsumed within the orchestral accompaniment. Fleana’s arioso “Addormentarmi” is adorned with some exotic “eastern” touches – melismata, slinky harmonies, tambourine – but she simply sounds too mature to play the sex-kitten.

The brief Intermezzo bridging the “Episodes” has a nice, dashing, swooning “gypsy” or “Hungarian” feeling to it, first like a csardas but without the wild ending; instead, Leoncavallo defaults to a more conventional, richly romantic, Italianate climax. Likewise, the melodramatic conclusion is given a rip-roaring treatment by the highly experienced Carlo Rizzi and the RPO, who could hardly give this music better advocacy.

I would have liked to be more enthusiastic about this revival and there are things about it I much enjoy but ultimately its flaws and failings both in terms of the work itself and its performance constitute a disappointment.
Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson

Track list
First Episode:
1) Batti! Il fuoco! In questa coppa chi berrà? (Chorus)*
2) ‘C’è uno straniero’ (Tamar, the Old Man)*
3) 'Ah! taci! non lo dir!' (Tamar, the Old Man)
4) 'Son qui! Ah!' (Chorus)
5) ‘Fleana! Zingara del mio cuor’ (the Old Man, Fleana)
6) 'Principe! Radu io son' (Radu)
7) ‘E sia! Rimani all’ombra’ (the Old Man, Fleana)
8) ‘Zingari! Le mie nozze’ (Fleana, Chorus)
9) ‘Eccolo finalmente il sogno!’ (Radu, Fleana, Chorus)
10) ‘Chi è nell’ombra?’ (Fleana, Radu, Tamar)
11) ‘Addormentarmi, accarezzarmi’ (Fleana)
12) ‘O solamente mia!’ (Radu, Tamar, Chorus, the Old man)
13) ‘Disciogli i balenanti’ (Chorus, the Old Man, Radu)
14) ‘La Benanti la Benanti!’ (Fleana)
15) ‘Ora congiungi’ (Fleana, the Old Man, Radu, Chorus)
16) ‘Ah! Canto notturno’ (Tamar, Fleana, Radu)
17) ‘Tutta la vita mia ti donerò’ (Radu, Fleana)
18) Intermezzo
Second Episode:
19) ‘Presto! Ognuno rientri’ (Chorus, Tamar)
20) ‘Ho guidato al bivacco la tribù’ (Tamar, Fleana)
21) ‘M’attendevi? Fleana io t’ho pensato’ (Radu)
22) ‘Rientra’ (Radu, Fleana)
23) ‘No! Qualcuno s’aggira’ (Radu, Fleana)
24) ‘Tagliami! Abbruciami ma vi disprezzo’ (Fleana, Radu)
25) ‘Ah! Perduto! Tutto!’ (Radu)
26) ‘Canto notturno’ (Tamar)
27) ‘Radu? Dorme!’ (Tamar, Fleana)
28) ‘Bella! Bella! Sei qui tutta fremente!’ (Tamar, Fleana)
*the listing of the first two tracks here corrects the booklet errors

Published: November 1, 2022

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