- Julian Budden
Commedia lirica in four acts by Ruggero Leoncavallo to his own libretto after the play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 10 November 1900.
The première of Zazà was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a cast including Rosina Storchio (Zazà), Edoardo Garbin (Dufresne) and Mario Sammarco (Cascart). Later the opera became a favourite with star sopranos such as Emma Carelli and Geraldine Farrar. In 1947 the conductor Renzo Bianchi made a reduced version of the score which subsequently became the standard version. More recently, however, Zazà has been successfully revived more or less in its entirety.
The action takes place in St Etienne and Paris during the 1890s. After a prelude based on a swirling, heavily charged ‘kiss’ motif, the curtain rises on the backstage of a sleazy music hall, the Alcazar de St Etienne, during an evening’s performance. A stage band is intermittently heard accompanying the various turns in a diversity of styles – Hungarian, Spanish, French ...