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Tuesday, September 13, 2022


(Above: Carlo Rizzi)

William Charlton-Perkins reviews Opera Rara’s latest audio release.

In recent years Opera Rara has expanded its scope of audio archaeology, unearthing long-forgotten operatic masterworks, and restoring them to circulation. While the Italian bel canto repertoire remains its prime focus, as ever since its founding in 1970, the British label has of late also delved into exploring French grand opéra, French operetta and Italian verismo rarities. In the latter category, its most recent ‘find’ proves to be yet another gold standard restoration job. Meet Leoncavallo’s Zingari. 

Opera Rara’s recording of Leoncavallo’s Zingari, released internationally by Warner Classics this month, sees the company’s current artistic director, Carlo Rizzi, at the helm of the restored original version of Zingari (whose plot closely echoes that of Bizet’s Carmen) as it was first heard over 100 years ago at its London world première.

Recorded in the studio last November (2021), prior to a performance at London’s Cadogan Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the project features a superb cast. This is headed by the redoubtable Bulgarian diva, Krassimira Stoyanova. Now in the high summer of her illustrious career, Mme Stoyanova brings the full opulence of her lirico spinto soprano to her impassioned portrayal of the role of Fleana in this Romani tale of love and betrayal.

(Right: Krassimira Stoyanova)

She is joined by the golden-toned Armenian tenor, Arsen Soghomonyan as Radu, with the viscerally exciting American baritone Stephen Gaertner singing the role of Tamar, and Poland’s powerhouse bass-baritone, Łukasz Goliński as Il Vecchio. The soloists are flanked by the Opera Rara Chorus on fine form.

Leoncavallo’s Zingari premièred under the baton of its composer in September 1912 at London’s Hippodrome Theatre. Zingari was commissioned by the theatre which, the previous year, had invited Leoncavallo to present his first opera, I Pagliacci. Based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin, written in 1827, the one-act Zingari marked a return to the iconic verismo style of Pagliacci, written two decades previously. 

Despite Zingari’s huge success in London and the United States, Leoncavallo cut down the original version of the work in subsequent revivals. Following extensive research, Opera Rara found the original vocal score and reconstructed the original performing edition, revealing many new aspects of the drama.

(Left: The album cover)

Given Leoncavallo’s sustained level of dramatic and melodic inspiration, offset by quick-silver strokes of illuminating orchestration that run throughout the compact score, it is difficult to cherry-pick highlights. 

From the outset of its swirling overture, through the rapturous passion of Fleana and Radu’s early declaration of love, ‘Éccola finalmente’ (‘Here’s the dream at last’) [Track 9], the action carries the listener on a white-water trajectory onwards to its cataclysmic final curtain. Dominated by its wilfully mocking heroine, as she plays fast and loose with her love-wracked rival suitors, Zingari’s turbulence exudes all the red-blooded passions of Italian verismo.

Zingari is Opera Rara’s fourth verismo project. It follows Leoncavallo’s Zazà, a 2015 release, and Puccini’s Le Willis, issued in 2018. Each centred around the Albanian lyric soprano, Ermonela Jaho, whose vibrant tones and vulnerable dramatic appeal evoke great predecessors such as Pilar Lorengar and Ileana Cotrubas. An acclaimed verismo specialist, Ms Jaho’s first solo disc for Opera Rara, entitled Anima Rara, won the vocal category at the 2021 International Classical Music Awards.

 Next year, Opera Rara returns to Italian bel canto, with the world premiere release of Mercadante’s Il proscritto. And under the company’s benevolent aegis, too, Offenbach’s long forgotten La Princesse de Trébizonde is set to reclaim its place on the world’s operetta stage.

For more information, and to purchase Zingari and other Opera Rara releases, visit

William Charlton-Perkins