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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/Eamonn Dougan
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi
rec. 2021, Fairfield Concert Hall, London, UK
Italian texts and essays with English translation in booklet

Inspired by the success in 1890 of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Leoncavallo’s verismo masterwork Pagliacci was premiered in 1892 to immediate acclaim and despite his writing some ten more operas and nine operettas, it remains the work on which his reputation rests and is the only one of his operas still widely performed.

Prior to this new release, the only other Leoncavallo operas I had encountered were his La bohčme (1897) - almost entirely overshadowed by the famous Puccini version - and the successful revival of Zazą (1900, rev. 1919), Opera Rara’s first venture into the verismo tradition that I reviewed in 2016, and now I heartily welcome this new release of Zingari one hundred and ten years after its London premiere.

In 1911, Leoncavallo accepted an invitation to conduct his big hit Pagliacci in a series of performances in the Hippodrome Theatre which, recently redesigned with an auditorium, was adding more refined and respectable shows to its repertoire, such as opera, operetta, ballet, and musicals to its variety theatre. As a result of the box-office success of Pagliacci, the Hippodrome commissioned Leoncavallo to write an opera.

For his libretto, Leoncavallo looked to Enrico Cavacchioli and Guglielmo Emanuel who wrote Zingari a tragic tale based on Alexander Pushkin’s famous narrative poem usually translated from the Russian as The Gypsies. Published in 1827, it gained a wide circulation when translated from the original Russian into other languages. With Zingari, Leoncavallo returned to the verismo style in an attempt to recapture the acclaim he had achieved with Pagliacci twenty years previously.

He designed the opera in a single act comprising of two episodes divided by an intermezzo. The first episode is set in a Roma camp living on the margins of society by the river Danube and the second occurs a year later, by which time the Roma camp has moved inland close to a deserted village church. With only four roles, it is a tale centred in a Roma community of love, jealousy, undying devotion, torment, rejection, murder and deaths in a raging fire. It contains the near-relentless stream of searing emotions so characteristic of verismo operas.

In September 1912, Leoncavallo conducted the Zingari premiere in a series of performances at the Hippodrome. During his lifetime, achieved significant acclaim, with long runs in several countries – notably, England, Italy and America. The First World War brought a halt to the runs and following the composer’s death in 1919, revivals of Zingari have been rare.

The original score of the 1912 London premiere underwent some alterations and trimming and later performances, not under the composer’s baton, also prompted various changes. Stored at the Sonzogno Publishing House in Milan, copies of the original orchestral scores disappeared following bombing raids during World War Two. A single, later orchestral score of Zingari from 1942 is extant, which contains a significant number of alterations, including cuts, compared with the published vocal score in Leoncavallo’s own piano reduction.

For this recording of Zingari Opera Rara commissioned Martin Fitzpatrick to reorchestrate the orchestral passages omitted from the original score and consequently long forgotten and Carlo Rizzi is conducting Zingari using the 1912 vocal score together with Fitzpatrick’s realisation, bringing Zingari back to life in a form as close as possible to the original premiere.

Renowned Bulgarian lirico-spinto Krassimira Stoyanova takes the role of the young Roma girl Fleana. This wilful enchantress captivates Radu with her seductive powers only to tire of him and turn her affections to Tamar. Now approaching thirty years on the professional stage, Stoyanova might seem somewhat mature for the part of the youthful Fleana and her soprano could not be described as having the freshness of youth, but she deserves some leeway in this performance as she establishes herself as a highly effective fit to the role. Her voice is not large, but it is bright, clear, strong and focused. She is in tremendous form, radiating assurance singing with formidable passion. Standing out is Fleana’s moving aria Addormentarmi, accarezzarmi where Tamar and Radu have been fighting and our seductressrejects Tamar as her lover, laughing at him and encouraging him to hold her by the waist.

A new name to me, Arsen Soghomonyan is an Armenia tenor who made his tenor debut as recently as 2017. He acquits himself impressively as Radu an errant nobleman attracted to the Roma life who has set his sights on seducing and marrying a Roma girl. In his aria Principe! Radu io, son Radu expresses his fidelity to the Roma group and excels with hugely expressive singing, sounding comfortable in his high register. Especially memorable is his Fleana! Ove sei? sung as the opera approaches its climax. Soghomonyan generates terrific drama as Radu, so incensed that Fleana is inside the hut with Tamar that he burns it down.
American baritone Stephen Gaertner completes the fatal love triangle as Tamar, the brooding Roma poet in love with Fleana. A highlight is Tamar’s early aria Ah! taci! non lo dir! where he is aware of Fleana’s indiscretions with Radu and Gaertner; his expression is striking expression and his high notes are splendid. Distraught at the prospect of Fleana’s forthcoming marriage to Radu, in the aria Ah! Canto notturno Gaertner empathises convincingly with Tamar’s fears and anxieties.

Compared with the main three roles, the Old Man, the patriarch of the Roma group, has relatively little to do, but the role remains a pivotal one. Polish bass-baritone Łukasz Goliński, making his Opera Rara debut, is well chosen. The Old Man is initially puzzled about where his daughter Fleana is spending her nights; when the relationship between Fleana and Radu comes to light he endorses their nuptials. Goliński makes a splendid impression as the Old Man displaying a mature voice enriched by an attractive tone.

Fleana has several splendid duos and the one that stands out is with Tamar Bella! Bella! Sei qui tutta fremente! Penetrating right to the heart of their roles, Stoyanova and Gaertner generate immense passion resulting in the lovers unwittingly entering the hut to their deaths.

Carlo Rizzi is vastly experienced in the field of Italian opera and here makes his recording debut as artistic director of Opera Rara. Entirely committed and keenly expressive, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Rizzi proves ideally suited to the demands of Zingari. The contribution of the fifty strong Opera Rara Chorus, adeptly prepared by Eamonn Dougan, is also worthy of praise.

Opera Rara produced this recording in 2021 under studio conditions at Fairfield Concert Hall, London and the engineering team has achieved satisfying sound. An accompanying booklet provides impressive information, including the full Italian libretto with an English translation, a synopsis and Ditlev Rindom’s valuable essay ‘Leoncavallo’s Music Hall Zingari’. The track listing in the booklet gives track one incorrectly as an Overture when it is Batti! Il fuoco! for chorus and orchestra, beginning with a thirty-seven second orchestral prelude. In addition, track two is C’č uno straniero and not Batti! Il fuoco!; all other tracks are correctly given.

To sum up, Opera Rara has come up trumps with this revival of Zingari. It plainly is not on the same elevated level as the verismo jewels Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, but it deserves reassessment and its time in the limelight.

Michael Cookson

Track list (tracks 1 & 2 are altered from booklet listing)
First Episode
1) Batti! Il fuoco! In questa coppa chi berrą? (Chorus)
2) ‘C’č 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 č 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 la la la!’ (Fleana)
15) ‘Ora congiungi’ (Fleana, the Old Man, Radu, Chorus)
16) ‘Ah! Canto notturno’ (Tamar, Fleana, Radu)
17) ‘Tutta la vita mia ti donerņ’ (Radu, Fleana)
18) Intermezzo
Second Episode
19) ‘Presto! Ognuno rientri’ (Chorus, Tamar)
20) ‘Ho guidato al bivacco la tribł’ (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)
29) ‘Fleana! Ove sei?’ (Radu, Tamar, Fleana, Chorus, the Old Man)

Published: October 6, 2022

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