The Glimmerglass Festival revived a once popular, now rarely performed Rossini Opera, “La Gazza Ladra” or “The Thieving Magpie”.
Meg Gillentine’s Magpie
In Peter Kazaras’ new production for the Glimmerglass Festival, in which each character’s costume suggested a different species of birdlife, the non-singing role of the Magpie was danced by Meg Gillentine.
[Below: Dancer Meg Gillentine is the Magpie; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Gillentine, who choreographed all her dancing, was in costume and character before the opera began, wandering through the Glimmerglass crowds outside the theater and through the audience before the opera began, playfully “stealing” bright objects as magpie lore suggests that magpies do.
The most familiar and enduring melodies of “The Thieving Magpie’s” are contained in its famous overture, which ranks in popularity with the overtures to Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and “William Tell”. All three overtures were well-mined by Disney and Warner Brothers as the musical accompaniment for their technicolor cartoons, but unlike the other two overtures, the music of the “Magpie” recurs in the opera itself.
As the overture played, Gillentine (and members of the singing cast) acted out the plot of the opera, which revolves around the accusation that a servant has stolen a silver spoon (actually taken by the magpie) which in the early 19th century in parts of Western Europe was a capital offense.
Rachele Gilmore’s Ninetta
The lead singing role is that of the servant Ninetta sung by New Jersey lyric coloratura soprano Rachele Gilmore, returning to Glimmerglass after her spectacular Zerbinetta two season’s prior [see Review: Zambello’s Dazzling New “Ariadne in Naxos” Enchants Glimmerglass Festival Audiences – July 19, 2014].
[Below: Ninetta (Rachele Gilmore, right) confides in her friend, Pippo (Allegra De Vita, left); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Gilmore posseses a voice with extraordinary range and dexterity, and she showed mastery of Rossini’s very different technical composition style, with its rapidly sung, florid passages. See [Rising Stars – An Interview with Rachele Gilmore].
Michele Angelini’s Giannetto
Reuniting with Gilmore, Michele Angelini, who was Elvino to her Amina in Miami [see “Sonnambula” Reawakened: Rachele Gilmore’s, Michele Angelini’s Artistry, Vocal Fireworks Enliven Bellini’s Masterpiece – Florida Grand Opera, February 9, 2013, performed brilliantly as Giannetto, Ninetta’s secret love and the son of Ninetta’s employers.
[Below: Giannetto (Michele Angelini, center) has returned from soldiering; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Angelini, a graduate of the prestigious Philadelphia Academy of the Vocal Arts (AVA), has a phenomenal range and a beautifully toned leggiero that makes him a sought-after Rossini tenor.
Musa Ngqungwana’s Mayor
Another Philadelphia AVA graduate, South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana, was a formidable Podesta (mayor). Ngqungwana’s mayor mixes his private lust with his judicial functions (that include executing servants suspected of stealing spoons). As the opera’s villain, Ngqungwana sang eloquently.
[Below: The Mayor (Musa Ngqungwana, left), has designs on Ninetta (Rachele Gilmore, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Ngqungwana has been tapped by Francesca Zambello to open the 2017 Glimmerglass Festival as Porgy in a production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, that she will be directing.
Other Cast Members and the Musical Performance
Connecticut mezzo-soprano Allegra de Vita, whom I had admired in baroque opera last season [see Review: Ovations for John Holiday’s Cesare in American Premiere of Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2015] enchantingly performed the role of Pippo, the boy who is Ninetta’s guy confidante.
Giannetto’s parents, Fabrizio and Lucia Vingradito, who are divided in their opinions of Ninetta and her suitability as a daughter-in-law, were played respectively (and effectively) by Ohio bass-baritone Calvin Griffin and Pennsylvania soprano Leah Hawkins.
[Below: Fabrizio Vingradito (Calvin Griffin, left) likes the idea of their son marrying their servant, but Lucia Vingradito (Leah Hawkins, right) disapproves of the idea, certain that the would-be bride steals their silverware; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
New Jersey bass-baritone Dale Travis took on the role of Fernando Villabello (who, in a crucial plot point, has the same initials as Giannetto’s father and like Fabrizio, has silverware engraved with a similar pattern). The role is an ambitious one. Unfortunately, I didn’t regard Travis’ performance as a success.
[Below: In this community, in those instances where a spoon is missing, a platoon of soldiers can be summoned to arrest the person, in this case, Ninetta (Rachele Gilmore, in white) suspected of stealing it; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Texas tenor Brad Raymond was cast in two roles, each of which he dispatched with distinction. He was the peddlar Isacco, who becomes involved with the confusion over two spoons initialed “FV”, one sold by Ninetta for an honorable reason, the other stolen by the magpie. Raymond was later the functionary Antonio.
British bass-baritone Simon Dyer was Giorgio; Texas bass-baritone Thomas Shivone was the Magistrate.
Glimmerglass music director Joseph Colaneri conducted. The scenery and costumes were by Myung Hee Cho.
[Below: Myung Hee Cho’s sets for the “Thieving Magpie” finale in which Giannetto and Ninetta (Michele Angelini, center, left and Rachele Gilmore, center right) are united and all’s well that end’s well; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Thoughts on “The Thieving Magpie”
We continue to be in a period of great revival of Rossini’s operas. The music in “Thieving Magpie”, which follows Rossini’s big hits “Barber of Seville” and La Cenerentola” closely in time, is sophisticated and advances Rossini’s compositional skills. It was once very popular (as it overture continues to be to this day).
It’s fascinating to read the opinions of the French literary giant Stendhal, who regarded the opera’s orchestration as indicating that Rossini had begun to affect the German operatic style.
Famously, the “Thieving Magpie” scene in which Ninetta deliberately falsely reads to the Mayor the text of her father’s “man wanted” poster was the inspiration for Varlaam’s similar scene in Alexander Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov (later incorporated into Mussorgsky’s Pushkin-based opera).
The original libretto is based on a play that supposedly had a true incident as its source (a servant hung for stealing items later found in a magpie nest).
Two hundred years later, the opera is best presented simply as fantasy. In fact, Peter Kazaras’ cheerful Glimmerglass production might have been conceived by Papageno, the character in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.
With its emphasis on birdlife, Myung Cho Lee’s attractive sets and costumes, and the ever-present magpie of Meg Gillentine, Colaneri’s conducting and fine singing by Gilmore, Angelini, Ngqungwana and the Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists have given this opera a boost in North America.
I recommend the Glimmerglass Festival fantasy production and cast of a musically engrossing Rossini work, both to the veteran opera goer and the person new to opera,