This is a quite simple yet effective production of Rossini's generally neglected masterpiece, La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Perhaps the most clever touch here is the portrayal of the Magpie by ballet dancer Sandhya Nagaraja, who goes through all sorts of balletic and gymnastic movements throughout the opera. In many ways, she steals the show, despite the fact that her role is a non-singing one. A look at her bio on the web discloses that she is also a singer, primarily of early music and jazz.
Rossini's serio-comic work, or, more correctly "opera semiseria", is quite long, running over three hours here. Thus, in a substandard production one could get bored at a single sitting. That won't happen here. The sets are rather sparse, consisting mainly of movable large white tubes that can tilt, lie flat or take on the look of a pillar, often reflecting different colors. Speaking of colors, the lighting deftly aids in creating a sort of Technicolor look on stage, and the costuming, though not historically accurate, is generally effective in its mixture of the understated and gaudy. I'm not sure that the river of water on stage throughout the Second Act contributes much to the atmosphere, though it isn't much of a distraction, either. That said, I'll bet the singers didn't like it: they even had to traipse through it during the curtain calls!
Those familiar with the plot of this opera are aware of its many complexities and I won't deal with all of them here. Suffice it to say that the Magpie causes much havoc with her thievery, setting off a series of events by stealing a silver spoon that lead to pronouncement of a death sentence for Ninetta. She could save herself but in so doing would bring down the authorities on her father Fernando, who has troubles of his own. Ninetta is eventually taken to the scaffold, but Giannetto and Fabrizio, who have learned the Magpie was the culprit in the theft, save her in the nick of time, and the opera ends happily.
The singing in this production is splendid: Paolo Bordogna as Fabrizio is brilliant, but it is the Ninetta of Mariola Cantarero that is superb. Her high notes are so gracefully sung and sound utterly effortless. She should have a highly successful career. Alex Esposito is a most effective Fernando too, and Kleopatra Papatheologou sings a convincing Lucia. And let me not forget to mention the splendid Michele Pertusi as the sleazy, horny Gottardo. The chorus and orchestra perform with spirit and accuracy for the Chinese-born conductor Lü Jia. He seems to have a knowing grasp of Rossini and is certainly a conductor to watch in the future.
The sound and camera work are first rate, rounding out a truly magnificent production of this rarely-performed and -recorded Rossini opera. This is the only recent video recording of the work in the catalog: a 1987 performance on Kultur Video, featuring Ileana Cotrubas, is also available and probably pretty good, though I am not familiar with it. However strong that effort may be, I must declare that this new one on Dynamic is truly worth the while of anyone interested in Rossini and this still underrated opera.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings