Let La Gazza Ladra Steal Your Heart

La gazza ladra, (The Thieving Magpie) the opera semiseria by Gioacchino Rossini, celebrated its 200th anniversary premiere at Teatro alla Scala in Milan (the first performance was exactly in 1817), under the baton of the enlightened Riccardo Chailly and the stage directions of the Oscar-winning film director of Mediterraneo, Gabriele Salvatores. The cinematic touch couldn’t be more appropriate, since the music of this opera was a unique inspiration to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

The Thieving Magpie, which is best known for the overture’s use of snare drums, disclosed a metatheatrical mise-en-scène, as the story of a young girl who is accused and sentenced to death for stealing a silver spoon is manipulated by the whim of the capricious bird. This semi-serious opera borrows elements of the comédie larmoyante (tearful comedy) where impending tragedy is resolved at the end, amid reconciliations and floods of tears and the pièce à sauvetage (rescue piece) in which the innocent party, a victim wrongfully convicted, is saved from the scaffold at the last minute and the despicable persecutor is punished.

In this representation, the Magpie is both the creator of chaos and the deux-ex-machina who leads to the lieto fine (the happy ending), through the acrobatic pirouettes of the circus artist Francesca Alberti. She fully embodies Salvatores’ vision of a female magpie, emancipated and untamable, who epitomizes human attraction towards the superfluous.

In line with Rossini’s intent to convergence serious and comic elements and humanize the story, the La Scala production imparted the semblance of real life through a stupendous melange of creative genres. The choreographed movements by Emanuela Tagliavia smoothly intertwined with the flow of the narrative. The fourth wall was broken with the appearance of marionettes doubling the protagonists (delivered by the Milanese company Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla e Figli), with the puppeteers dressed exactly as the ushers of Teatro alla Scala.

The whimsical scenery tributed the world of filmmaking and the nineteenth-century costumes, by Gian Maurizio Fercioni, emblematically portrayed the various ambiances of the countryside, the prison and the courtroom. The playfulness adopted by Marco Filibeck enhanced the illusoriness of the life we live, marked by the boundaries of the dramatic realism of the opera.

This representation of La gazza ladra was criticized for the boisterous sound, as the energetic conduction of Chailly seemed to have the instrumentation loom over the performers’ interpretation. However, this choice was very much in line with Rossini’s style, forcing the singers to keep the emotional drama moving forward, using the principles of bel canto to help them render the repeated material in a new emotional guise.

Rosa Feola made an emotively poignant debut as Ninetta, but the female singer who triumphed on stage was Teresa Iervolino (Lucia), with an artfully sculpted coloratura and prosodic singing. Paolo Bordogna (Fabrizio Vingradito) and Edgardo Rocha (Giannetto) possessed excellent stage presence, with matching register and tonal quality to the content of the words. Just as remarkable was Alex Esposito (Fernando), playing Ninetta’s father, with a robust voice that highly articulated the phrasing of the libretto by Giovanni Gherardini. Beyond a shadow of a doubt Michele Pertusi (Podestà) conquered the stage with his expertise in the art of Bel canto and a Tim Burtonesque look, contaminated by Brian Stoker and the Grimm Brothers. Weaker performances were intoned feebly by Serena Malfi (Pippo), Matteo Macchioni (Isacco) and Matteo Mezzaro (Antonio).

The Chailly-Salvatores mise en abyme of Rossini’s devilishly clever, thieving magpie, created a contemplative magic. The choice of a direction that included a play within a play structure, enhanced the juxtaposition between the comic subject and its animated dénouement, with a state-of-the-art fusion between the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and pure fantasia.