Opera: Zaza – Ruggiero Leon-cavallo

“Zaza” a lyric comedy in four acts, founded on a play by Pierre Berton with words and music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, was produced in Milan in 1900.


Zaza. Anaide, her mother. Floriana, a concert singer. Natalie, Zaza’s maid. Signora Dufresne. Milio Dufresne. Casart, a concert singer. Bussy, a journalist. Malardot, the proprietor of the concert café. Lartigo, a monologue artist. Duclou, the stage manager. Michelin, a journalist. Marco, the valet of Signor Dufresne. Courtois. Toto, Signor Dufresne’s little daughter. Singers, dancers, supernumeraries, clowns, firemen, property-men, machinists, scene-shifter and others.

When the curtain rises there is disclosed part of a concert café. At one side is the dressing-room of Zaza, the singer, and at the other a section of a stage setting, before which may be discerned some of the audience seated at round tables upon which are glasses and trays.

Nearly all of the characters are introduced in this act. Zaza’s rival, Floriana, sings a gay aria and is applauded; two clowns do an act ; Malardot, the proprietor, bargains with Lartigon, the monologist, for something lively and scolds the waiters for not leaving the foam on the beer, so that four glasses might pass muster for five; Cascart, a singer, who looks upon Zaza as his special property, visits her in her dressing-room to tell her of his new engagement at Marseilles and to propose taking her along. Zaza’s drunken mother, Anaide, who always is begging for money to indulge her weakness, comes in on the usual errand and accomplishes it. Zaza also has a chat with Bussy, the journalist, her ” discoverer.” They speak of Milio Dufresne, his friend, and it is plain that Zaza is interested. Taunted by Bussy, she declares that she will have Dufresne at her feet. Bussy tells her she flatters herself too much. Floriana and Zaza, of whom all the women are jealous, have a lively tilt, Dufresne looking on from the background.

Afterwards Zaza lures Dufresne to her dressing-room and exerts all her well-tried charms. At first he is cold and very much on his guard but finally she conquers and he abandons himself to the affair.

The second act is played in the reception-room of Zaza’s house. Here, as usual, is Dufresne. This time he tells her that he must leave her to go to America for some months. She abandons herself to childish grief over the matter, displaying the force of her warm and heedless love. She pleads so piteously that he finally consents to postpone his journey. He tells her, however, that he must at once go to Paris on business. He departs and Zaza watches his retreating form from the window, wafting kisses to him and fairly weeping for joy when he turns around for a last smile.

Her mother comes but Zaza is in no mood for gossip and runs away. When she comes back all laughter and happiness in the thought of Dufresne, Cascart is there.

He speaks of the Marseilles engagement but Zaza is indifferent. Then he tries to reason with her about her present love-affair, warning her that no happiness can come from the attachment. He refers to their own past love and she gently tells him that Dufresne’s love is finer than that of the rest of them. But he suggests that possibly Dufresne has other ties and tells of seeing him with a woman in Paris. All the jealousy of which a nature like Zaza’s is capable is aroused. Her mother joins Cascart in his advice to give him up. Zaza, however, announces her intention to follow him.

Act III shows an elegant apartment in Dufresne’s Paris house. He arranges the papers on his desk and goes away with Signora Dufresne. Zaza enters with her maid. Dufresne’s valet, who has been enjoying his master’s best cigars, fancies she is a caller who has been expected and retires. The succeeding events dispel Zaza’s hope that Cascart might have been wrong. She finds a letter addressed to Signora Dufresne on the desk. A child enters in search of a piece of music and being cajoled by Zaza prattles of her father and mother. Then the wife herself arrives and gazes astonished at the intruder. Zaza, merely saying that she has made a mistake in the door, goes away.

The scene of the fourth act is again at Zaza’s house. Malardot chides her about the uncertainty she has lately displayed in fulfilling her engagements and with the indifference of despair she promises to sing. The loyal Cascart, who lias learned the story of the Paris visit, again pleads with Zaza to give up her lover. She laughs at the suggestion and Cascart reminds her sternly that it is now a question of duty. He leaves and Dufresne is announced. He greets Zaza in the old affectionate way. Then she allows him to understand that she knows he is married but freely expresses her forgiveness for his deception and talks touchingly of her love and her belief that they were destined for each other. He responds very warmly but some casual expression arouses her suspicion that he is by no means indifferent to his wife. Thereupon she declares that she has told Signora Dufresne everything. In a rage, he throws her to the floor and reviles her for making him forget a pure woman’s love for her own unworthy self. Zaza, crying that he has, cured her, sends him away, having first, however, assured him that Signora Dufresne knows nothing. When he has gone, she runs to the window and tries to call him back but he does not turn and she falls by the window, weeping bitterly.