Over the years Opera Holland Park has made a speciality of the operas of Puccini and his contemporaries – a group often referred to as the verismo (or realist) school.
This year’s choice falls on the neglected Zaza, written in 1900 by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Though universally known for his violent thriller Pagliacci, as Holland Park demonstrates, he was more than just a one-hit wonder.
A music hall artiste in 1890s France, Zaza has an affair with Dufresne, a businessman who lies to her about his marital status; she discovers the truth by visiting his home while he is away and encountering his wife and daughter. In the no-holds-barred emotionalism of the final scene she sends him on his way.
The opera’s social viewpoint – that of the ‘other woman’, and one coping with an alcoholic mother – must have seemed shocking in its day and still packs a powerful punch when delivered, as here, with complete conviction. The world of the French music-hall was one Leoncavallo knew intimately from his own period as a struggling composer in 1880s Paris, and he sketches it with constant vitality and humour.
His attractive musical depiction is nicely matched by Alyson Cummins’ complex backstage set and Camille Assaf’s witty theatrical costumes, and indeed throughout Marie Lambert’s richly detailed production, which is strong on both character and narrative.
Leading the cast, Holland Park regular Anne Sophie Duprels once again hurls herself into the title role with significant flair and definite savoir-faire. She’s expertly partnered by Joel Montero as her lying lover Dufresne, with immaculate support from Richard Burkhard as her staunch colleague Cascart and Louise Winter as her drunken, happy-go-lucky mother.
The City of London Sinfonia’s authoritative playing of Leoncavallo’s appealing and impassioned score under Peter Robinson’s vital baton sets the seal on this worthwhile re-launch.