Fire in the Hole
Zingari (The Gypsies), original version premiered in 1912, music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carlo Rizzi, Cadogan Hall, Friday 3 December 2021, reviewed by Leslie Jones
“Like a viburnum, I tremble on the breeze”. Ruggero Leoncavallo wrote the libretto for Zingari, which is replete with numerous, supposedly poetic lines. These lovers do go on. Prince Radu on heat brings to mind sexual tourist Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, in Madama Butterfly.
In Leoncavallo’s imagined world, men are possessive, prone to jealousy and to violence. Women, in turn, are fickle and faithless and have weaponised their sexuality. A sexually frustrated man, it would seem, is more manipulable. There are also distinct elements of sadomasochism herein. “Cut me! Burn me!”, Fleana repeatedly implores. In due course, her sometime lover Radu obliges. A psycho-analyst would doubtless delve into the composer’s emotional and sexual history.
There is some splendidly exotic incidental music in this work. In his notes in the programme, however, Ditlev Rindom questions Leoncavallo’s pretentious claim to have “conducted ethnographic research into gypsy music”. He points out that part of the composer’s youth was spent in Cairo. The score, accordingly, is more reminiscent of Aida than of “gypsy ‘exoticism’”.
The four distinguished soloists, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as Fleana, tenor Arsen Soghomonyan as Radu, baritone Stephen Gaertner as Tamar and bass-baritone Łukasz Goliński as Il Vecchio, were all on top form. So was maestro Rizzi, the former Music Director of Welsh National Opera, although at times we worried for his health! There was some fine playing by the orchestra, in particular by the harpist Daniel De Fry. Opera Rara, which presented this performance in conjunction with RPO, is clearly on a mission to “rediscover and restore neglected works of the highest quality”.
Editorial note; the premiere of Zingali was at the London Hippodrome in 1912
Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR