In an exclusive interview with Blasting News, South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana spoke charmingly on an array of subjects. Parts 1 and 2 of this interview series dealt with his memoirs and his upcoming novel, racial inequality, how to end hate speech, and further in-depth coverage of South Africa’s racial struggles. Musa debuts at Glimmerglass #Opera July 16 as Mayor Gottardo in Rossini’s La gazza ladra, so he also gave his unique take on this unjustly neglected opera.

A peek at 'La gazza ladra'

“Highly stylized” and “very expressive” … just two clues Musa gives on director Peter Kazaras’ premiere production for Glimmerglass of Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra, which plays July 16 – August 25.

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Of Mayor Gottardo, he says with astonishment: “His first words are ‘My plans are laid.’ No ‘hello’ or ‘how do you do?’, he just gloats ‘I want to caress that sweet face and lure her in. I will conquer her.’ Who says things like that? That’s the kind of sinister manipulator he is.”

Musa continues about Gottardo, “He’s never happy. He’s sadistic and vows to use all his power to make Ninetta suffer. He seizes on the fact that a silver spoon is missing and coldly cites the law that the perpetrator will get the death penalty. He probably wrote that law and forced the courts to endorse it, just so he could exploit unfortunate people! He’s all about dominance.”

‘That’s just not me’

“I’m always smiling,” he says. “I like working hard, but I believe it should also be fun. Director Peter Kazaras warned me not to smile unless Gottardo is about to inflict pain on others, and then to make it a sinister smile.

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So I find myself turning often to those around me, in rehearsals, reassuring them ‘I’m really not this way.’”

Why 'La gazza ladra' is seldom performed

“Rossini composed three hours and 45 minutes of music for this opera,” says Musa. Except for the purists at Pesaro or Bayreuth, that’s far too long for most people today, especially for a two-act opera.” The bass-baritone refers to the annual Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, which performs strictly Rossini stage and concert works, after a scholarly conductor prepares a critical edition of the score.

Just be glad it’s not Bayreuth

And Bayreuth? It’s Germany’s summer festival that presents exlusively the operas of Richard Wagner. There, purists endure a several-years-long waiting list for tickets plus an auditorium with no air conditioning. Oh, and Wagner’s operas are notorious for their seemingly unending length, some lasting five hours, others six. Your grandchildren grow up and marry before a performance ends.

What to expect at Glimmerglass

Fortunately for non-purists and first-timers, director Peter Kazaras and conductor Joseph Colaneri have judiciously trimmed La gazza ladra without robbing it of its essence.

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Lord knows enough thieving already takes place in the story itself.

Prudent trimming

“The only aria that was cut is Lucia’s,” Musa explains regarding a secondary but pivotal character, Lucia Vingradito, wealthy farm-owner Fabrizio Vingradito’s wife. She blatantly implies their servant, Ninetta Villabella, has taken a silver fork, then accuses her of stealing a silver spoon. She apparently takes flatware inventory with regularity and pays no attention to opera titles (The Thieving Magpie) for give-away clues regarding the true thief. It was not for these reasons, though, that her aria was cut. Spoiler alert: Lucia ends up recovering her silverware. But Ninetta …

Follow along

“The four principal characters’ arias are all there, though my Act-II aria was shortened by eliminating unneeded recitative [narrative] passages. Practically the only loss is recitative, but enough has been preserved to allow the audience to follow the story with full enjoyment.” Well, with Musa’s recommendation, we ought to go, don’t you think? Or don’t you?

Rossini’s La gazza ladra. Only eight performances July 16–August 25 at The Glimmerglass Festival, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, New York 13326. #MusicFestivals #Everything Music and Theatre