Gioachino Rossini’s 21st opera, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), premiered 199 years ago, in 1817. His first, La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Promissory Note), premiered just six and a half years earlier, in 1810. Hm, 21 operas in just six and a half years... That’s one new opera roughly every 3 months, 3 weeks,10 hours, 17 minutes and 8 seconds — pretty cool for a 25-year-old.

The Glimmerglass Festival premieres this unjustly neglected opera July 16. Why bother seeing an almost 200-year-old opera? Reasons certainly abound. Here are just three:

Its compelling story based on historical events

It’s incredible that this actually happened to real people.

Even more extraordinary: Rossini set the new to music. In a Paris suburb at an imprecise time after an unnamed war, a young girl is tried and sentenced to death for ...(drumroll please)...stealing a silver spoon. It seems spoon filching was grand larceny in ancient France, that is, if the filcher was a servant. The penalty: capital punishment. No spoilers here, but the idea bears grave thought.

Rossini’s richly varied, high-calibre music

The deservedly famous overture begins with ominous snare drum-rolls such as those one would hear at an execution, then bursts into triumphant sunshine, followed by a stormy section that points forward to his last (40th) opera, 12 years later. Then comes his trademark slowly mounting crescendo for orchestral tutti, after which — since it’s so much fun — they do it all over again.

Oft-performed as a standalone at symphonic concerts, you’ll get the chance to see why the rest of the opera should be performed with equal frequency—you know, attached to the overture.

Rossini ingeniously musicalizes each dramatic situation: rousing choruses; festive preparations for a soldier’s homecoming; romantic interludes for the featured young couple, which sound fittingly canoodle-y.

Oddly, the interrogation scene has a somewhat zesty underpinning — perhaps a hint that things just may turn out okay despite the dire predicament? The chilling, mournful march leads our feelings to the firing squad, where he hear those ominous snare drum-rolls within their dramatic context.

Talented singers led by Italian Maestro Joseph Colaneri

  • American soprano Rachele Gilmore, as the protagonist, Ninetta Villabella, emotes practically no happiness. Any joyous moments are extremely brief and revert to sadness or a sense of foreboding. Sure, she has a young woman’s giddiness arising from budding romance... but in the very midst of fear for her life and even her father’s life. A standout, she intones a heartfelt prayer that’s bound to melt your little heart.
  • American bass-baritone Dale Travis plays her father, Fernando Villabella, an irresponsible military man who commendably proves willing to place his life on the line to save his daughter.
  • South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana (debut) plays sadistic, sleazy old Mayor Gottardo, whose repelled advances propel Ninetta into lots of trouble.
  • Italian-American tenor Michele Angelini portrays young soldier Giannetto Vingradito, son of a wealthy farm-owner, who isn’t above falling in love with the family’s servant girl, Ninetta.
  • American actress Meg Gillentine is the opera’s choreographer, who also plays the title role, that is, the talking bird with a proclivity for pilfering. Are any other birds on her résumé, whether for stage or screen? How does one ornithological role compare to another? She must be a consummate actress if she can perform the role more convincingly than an actual magpie. Makes one curious enough to attend, eh?


You probably thought a fourth reason was coming, didn’t you?

Just three were promised, and three you got. But this subheading is intended to spur you to action. Go forth and get tickets to Rossini’s La gazza ladra. Only eight performances July 16–August 25 at The Glimmerglass Festival, 7300 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, New York 13326.

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