Rachmaninov’s Aleko: Theoretical Reflections on the Russian-Gypsy Soul, by ILdar Khannanov

It is dusk and the young Gypsy clings to his Zemfira. Both Gypsies hope to remain until daylight, despite the dire tragedy they know this might bring. If Zemifa’s non-Gypsy husband discovers the betrayal, he would kill them. Aleko finds them and immediately stabs both the Gypsy lover and Zemfira. During the double murder, Aleko seems both comatose (cataleptic) and yet paradoxically blinded by passion. Before the tragedy, Aleko had tried to accept the ways and laws of Gypsy culture. Yet the inherent passivity (more on this below) of Aleko’s psychological constitution conflicts with his attempt to transform himself into a sensual, erotic, and freedom-loving Gypsy persona.
Gypsy scenes of intense passion like this one form a substantial element and source for Russian literature and music. Even today in the former Soviet Union, Rachmaninov’s one-act Aleko remains one of the most common and popular operas in the repertory. Audiences of all ages seem to relate to the dramaturgy bridging Russian and Gypsy cultural stereotypes, and musically, to the melodic pathos and fluency of Rachmaninov’s harmonic language.

Whole essay below