The Opera Rara label devotes itself to just what the name says, not only recording rare operas, but also mounting them in well-financed productions. They've excavated works that promise to reshape the operatic repertory some, and so it may be with this work by Ruggero Leoncavallo, which he preferred to the ubiquitous I Pagliacci. It offers a pure verismo story, featuring the titular character, a French music-hall singer who gets involved in a doomed affair with a married Parisian businessman. There is an extra level of verismo involved: Leoncavallo himself worked in music halls as a young man, and the opera rolls along at a good clip in the first act with plenty of colorful atmosphere and music. Leoncavallo wrote the libretto himself. Zazà was a success at first, but has rarely been staged since the 1920s, probably because it makes substantial demands on its lead soprano both dramatically and technically. The good news here is that soprano Ermonela Jaho succeeds on both counts. Her voice is a powerhouse, but her real accomplishment is that you care about Zazà as she meets her lover's child, realizes what he is, and resolves to break the cycle she has experienced in her own life. Her supporting cast is strong; you can sample the ensemble "Su Zazà" for a taste of the energy that attracted audiences in previous live performances of this production. Opera Rara offers a clean studio recording here, which is all to the good. Recommended even to those who think they've heard enough verismo opera.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2