Cadogan Hall, London
It’s hard to imagine a better rendering of Pagliacci’s fiercely sensual opera about a Gypsy love triangle than Opera Rara and the Royal Philharmonic gave in this concert performance
Written for performance at the London Hippodrome in 1912, Leoncavallo’s Zingari (“Gypsies”) was hugely successful in its day, and second in popularity only to Pagliacci among his operas in his lifetime, although like so many of his scores, revivals became sporadic after his death in 1919. Opera Rara, however, who have done so much to champion Leoncavallo’s work of late, chose it to mark their return to live music after lockdown with a terrific concert performance conducted by Carlo Rizzi, with an outstanding cast.
The work itself is extraordinarily effective, if by no means a masterpiece. Based on Pushkin’s 1824 poem The Gypsies, it deals with Radu, a disaffected aristocrat who joins a band of Gypsies after falling in love with the independent-spirited Fleana, the daughter of the Old Man who is their leader. Love turns to murderous obsession, however, when she becomes attracted to the Gypsy Tamar, who has always adored her. The similarities with Carmen are not coincidental: Prosper Mérimée, on whose novel Bizet’s masterpiece is based, was also Pushkin’s first French translator.