Riccardo Massi


Zazà (Barbican) – The guardian

Zazà (Barbican) on theguardian.com - 29.11.2015

Opera Zazà review – a knockout concert performance

Ruggero Leoncavallo thought Zazà, first performed in Milan in 1900, a finer work than Pagliacci, the only one of his operas to maintain a place in the regular repertory. History has generally disagreed with him – until last Friday night, with Opera Rara’s concert performance. It was an absolute stunner.

Warm-hearted Zazà, a singer in a French provincial music hall, falls for Parisian businessman Milio, initially unaware that he is married. She only gives him up when she encounters his daughter, Toto, and realises that wrecking the marriage will blight the girl’s childhood, as her own was ruined by her father’s desertion. There’s one flaw: Milio, whose ghastly nature is only revealed at the end, is too enigmatic a figure early on for us to fully understand the initial attraction. We wonder why Zazà is still not involved with her worldly ex Cascart, who is now her stage partner and best friend. But there is a superb exposition, worthy of Émile Zola, in which the protagonists gradually detach themselves from a beautifully observed depiction of theatrical life. And the second half trawls Zazà’s anguish with an emotional force that tears you in two.

Ermonela Jaho, eyes brimming with tears, registering every psychological shift with an extraordinary blaze of sound, was breathtaking in the title role. Frequently giving the impression of living rather than singing the music, Jaho established herself as one of the great verismo interpreters.

Stephen Gaertner, another exceptional artist, was her level-headed, affectionate Cascart and Riccardo Massi was the glamorous-sounding Milio. The smaller roles were all superbly done. High-voltage conducting and playing from Maurizio Benini and the BBC Symphony Orchestra added to the intensity. Occasional slips of balance mattered little in the excitement of it all – the whole thing was a knock-out performance.

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