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Zaza highlights Sunday Night at 8 pm on the Lyric Stage

Rugerro Leoncavallo wrote one unquestioned masterpiece, I Pagliacci, at the beginning of his career in 1892. It, along with Cavaleria Rusticana, established the verismo style in Italian opera.  He came close to the standard of Pagliacci twice, with his version of La Boheme which was popular in its day, but which never came close to having the acclaim that his sometime friend Giacomo Puccini’s classic version of La Boheme has had, and with Zaza, which premiered eight years after Pagliacci in 1900, at the Teatro Lirico in Milan with a libretto by the composer.

Zaza was very popular in its day, as a favorite of sopranos like Rosanna Storchio and Geraldine Ferrar, with performances throughout the world into the 1920’s, when it  faded from the stage. But recent revivals have created new interest in the work.

The story portrays how the popular actress Zazà loves a man, Milio, but breaks off relations with him when she finds out he is married with an appealing child, to whom Zaza she is much drawn to. Zaza wants nothing to do with breaking up the child’s home as her home was broken in her own childhood. It helps that her lover Milio turns out to be a really bad guy, with other girlfriends besides her as well as the wife. Her stage partner and former lover Cascart is waiting for her at the end, as he has been throughout the opera. He is the baritone, and has the opera’s most famous excerpt from the opera, the aria Zaza, piccola Zingara.

In this recording from 1957, soprano Clara Pertrella sings Zaza, tenor Giuseppe Campora, Milio, and baritone Tito Tutura, Cascart. Alfredo Silipigni conducts the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Turino.