Rachmaninoff’s opera Aleko (1892) is based on Pushkin’s poem The Gypsys. It tells a tragic love story between Aleko, a Russian, and a free-spirited gypsy girl Zemfira.
Longing for freedom, Aleko abandons the stifling life and rules of „civilized society“ for what seems to him an unencumbered, carefree life of nomadic gypsies. Zemfira meets Aleko wandering the southern steppes, brings him into the gypsy camp, and introduces him to her father as her lover. After living together for two years, Zemfira, who now has a baby, lost interest in Aleko. As a warning, the old man tells Aleko his own story of how Zemfira’s mother Mariula abandoned them both, a fate he had to accept. Aleko admits that his views are different and he would seek revenge for betrayal.
Suspecting that Zemfira is now in love with a young gypsy, Aleko encounters them together, and kills them both. The old man casts out Aleko adding that his peaceful people do not want a murdered in their midst. Alone again, Aleko finds no escape from fate.
Aleko – Baritone
Young Gypsy – Tenor
Zemfira – Soprano
Old Man, Zemfira’s father – Bass
Gypsy woman – Mezzo/Contralto