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Subject: Raves for rare Rossini La GAZZA LADRA or the Theiving Magpie (7-29-30) at Glimmerglass
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Date:Sun, 31 Jul 2016 13:53:32 +0000
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Friday was a Rossini day with the opening of the one act (50 minute) condensed version of L'occasione fa il ladro, here called "Lost Luggage" and performed in an adorable translation by Kelly Rourke that got the message over. It was held in the Pavilion with open seating which was not a good idea as many folks took whole tables and many of us had to sit in rowed up seats at the rear behind them. Frankly, table seating doesn't work for this type of performance. In addition, there were not enough programs and I had to beg several times to get the program (which I could write a book about, but I won't) to find out that the singers were Emily Pogorelc, Rexford Tester, Johnanthan McCullough, Hannah Hagerty, Thomas Shivone and Brad Raymond who all excelled in this madcap mixup of identity. 

This was mere a frothy amuse for what was to come Friday evening. I have seen dozens and dozens of Rossini operas and love many of them. However, La Gazza Ladra has never crossed my path and I am grateful to have seen this superb, delightful and fun THEIVING MAGPIE: 

Conductor Joseph Colaneri 
Director Peter Kazaras 
Choreographer Meg Gillentine 
Sets and Costumes Myung Hee Cho 
Lighting Mark McCullough 
Hair & Makeup J. Jared Janas & Dave Bova 
Projected Titles Kelley Rourke 

  

  

Ninetta Rachele Gilmore 
Gottardo Musa Ngqungwana 
Fernando Villabella Dale Travis 
Giannetto Michele Angelini 
Pippo Allegra De Vita 
Isacco/Antonio Brad Raymond 
Lucia Leah Hawkins 
Fabrizio Vingradito Calvin Griffin 
The Magpie Meg Gillentine 

On arrival into the theater our Magpie, Ms. Gillentine (who has done several amazing turns in leads at Washington's Arena Stage) is dressed in the most elaborate and awesome "magpie" costume (you must check the Glimmerglass website for photos!) and comes amongst the audience pecking at people and looking for shiny objects to steal. As the maestro arrives and the famous overture starts, she tussles the continuo player's hair and mimics the drum notes as she dances across the stage. The scrim of ark clouds with a bird at the top rises to reveal an somewhat art nouveau double arch which seems to be lit from within forming tree branches. A matching nouveau free-standing gate is at the left rear and a large nouveau birdcage is at the l, while an elaborate dining table and chairs are at the right. 
  
Lucia, in a slinky black gown that was silvery shimmering and a black feather headdress and collar, is huffing over the goings on for her son's return home from the military and counting the silverware. The brilliant production premise here is that each of the characters is a specific bird, and boy did it prove perfect, I didn't know the opera actually had to have a magpie, and she proved perfect as the "family pet." Ninetta, the servant and heroine, is in simple white with only a few feathers on her head; she looked a bit forlorn and plucked compared to all the other's plumage. Lucia's husband, Fabrizio, arrives in long black flapping feathery tails and black top hat with plumes and he seemed like a birdy Basilio. Perhaps the most masterful costume was that of Pippo, mezzo trouser role who resembled Papageno with a yellow Mohawk of feathers. 
The scenes built and built as the military arrival of the son, Giannetto, we got some gorgeous high notes from Ms. Hawkins. 
Ninetta's first aria, "Deh piacer..." was a tour de force of treacherous roulades which Ms. Gilmore glided over in anticipation of Giannetto, whom she loves. 
Brad Raymond's Isaaco was a wonderfully funny nasal tenor carrying two large trunks with a large stick over his shoulders (which held his pawned goods) like an servant water carrier and I was sad he did not reappear after intermission. 
Giannetto enters as a hero in white cape with feathered collar and red and white vest, high black boots and white pants to sing, "Vieni fra queste braccia.." with superb male coloratura and a sh*tload of high notes; I love Rossini tenors and am shocked I never heard of Mr. Angelini. 
Mr. Travis returned to duet with her father as the Magpie tries to push him out; it was indeed quite funny, and very drawn out. 
Mr. Ngqungwana's Mayor was in a long feathery black coat with huge white tufted feather breast and black collar with glittery black cuffs and reminded me of a less slimy Basilio. His duet with Ninetta is so poignant today with all the date rape we hear of as she keeps saying, "NO" and he insists it means, "YES!" 
The character of Giorgio, the mayor's assistant/notary, reminded me of a tall Uncles Fester as he was bald, had blackened eyes and sported a long black coat with feathery collar like a vulture. 
In the extended finale, Lucia accuses Ninetta of stealing her silverware and as Ninetta starts to cry she lifts her handkerchief and money falls out from the fork she had pawned which was her father's. Pippo says the fork was pawned to Isaaco who is called in to testify but says he has already sold the fork, which has the same monogram as both family patriarch's have initials "F.V." The typical staccato Rossini a tutti ensues and it ends with Ninetta fearing her end is near as Giorgio proclaims that a servant who steals must die by law. The male chorus enters in quasi-French foreign legion red, white and blue bird outfits with plumed hats looking like Babes in Toyland soldiers in birdsuits to carry Ninetta off. 
  
I'm not a conductor or musician, but the applause for Maestro Colaneri and the orchestra after the break was huge, and I must say coordinating this Rossini can't be easy. Bravi tutti. 
The stage now had a large elaborate nouveau style "jail cell" from which Ninetta emerged to first have a duet with her lover, Forse un di.." and I have to take note of the adorable jailor who fawned over them (again Brad Raymond) who again urged them to break up as the Mayor approached (another "have to go now" duet). The Mayor took Ninetta on a long leash professing to save her if she yields to his advances in a wonderful aria and superb basso cabaletta. I was beginning to note here that Rossini had really plagiarized himself as there was Barbiere, Cenerentola and more all over the place. 
The best part of the entire opera for me was the mezzo/soprano duet for Pippo and Ninetta that ensued, a truly blissful moment for these two female voices which should truly be performed more often in concerts as it is truly superb. 
The next scene has Ninetta on a platform at trial for theft and the male chorus on a larger platform to the left with the Judge in front of the jail cell which is now like a large birdcage with mor male chorus "jurors" on it. They are all in blue with the appropriate feathering and hideous black tall wigs. As the court case proceeded they all made birdlike quirky gestures which were quite funny practically cooing to have the poor girl sent to her death. 
The scene ends in an extended acapella quintet with her father pleading for her life after he gives himself in and the Judge and Giorgio explaining that once declared guily no one can reverse the sentence. Ms. Gilmore has some gorgeous high notes as the scene ends and there is a large nouveaux birdbath structure on stage as Pippo enters and the Magpie steals the coin she has. A procession enters with Ninetta going to her death and she offers up a prayer to God joined by the chorus. Pippo and Antonio find a nest with all the stolen silver and coins the Magpie has taken and go off to save Ninetta as they hear two shots. Confusion ensues, but ultimately we discover Ninetta is not dead and she is aved  as her father is pardoned and only the Mayor is left to fume at the side as the finale, "Ecco cessando il vento..." (sp?) brings the opera to a happy ending. 
  
I am so glad that Glimmerglass did this work and I am even more thrilled with this oh-so-fun and inventive production. It works perfectly and shows that this production team had a concept that was ingenious. There were cuts which were fine and another 10 minutes trimmed from Act(which ran close to 90 minutes) might have even made it better. I can only hope that other companies looking for rare works will rent these magnificent costumes and recreate this for others to see. 
ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 


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