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Other than Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), how many operas can you name that begin with the letter Z? In this edition of Opera in Brief, F. Paul Driscoll editor-in-chief of Opera News discusses three operas brought to you by the letter Z.
Driscoll says that despite Mozart’s beautiful music for the title character in Zaïde, the opera will never be in the standard repertory because of its impossibly confusing libretto. But the aria Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben has been recorded quite a bit in the 20th century. "It’s very peaceful,” he said. "You can believe that this girl whose life is about pleasuring men is singing just what she needs to have someone sleep more deeply.”
Zazà was written by Ruggero Leoncavallo who is most famous for his tragic one-act opera, Pagliacci.
“Zazà is a music hall entertainer who has a lover,” Driscoll explained. Zazà suspects that her lover is being untrue. She goes to his home, meets his young daughter and finds out this way that he is a happily married man. To cheer Zazà up, the child offers to play the piano for her. In “Angioletto, il tuo nome," Zazà sings about how lucky her lover is to have a happy home, a happy family and a beautiful, angelic daughter. And she – Zazà – has nothing.
Bellini's two-act tragedy is based on Voltaire's "Zaïre." Zaira is a Christian girl who is being held captive in a harem in Jerusalem during the crusades. “She’s going to be married to the Sultan and is quite happy about it,” Driscoll tells us. "Amo ed amata io sono” is Zaira’s solo of erotic surrender.
Bellini later repurposed this aria for the tomb scene in I Capuleti e I Montecchi. But he slowed the tune down and gave Romeo (a role for mezzo-soprano) new, sad lyrics because he thinks Giulietta is dead.