|About this Recording
8.660369-71 - ROSSINI, G.: La gazza ladra [Opera] (Moreno, Tarver, Regazzo, Praticò, Brno Classica Chamber Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis, Zedda)
Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Melodramma in due atti di Giovanni Gherardini after La pie voleuse by Théodore Badouin d'Aubigny and Louis-Charles Caigniez
Fabrizio Vingradito, ricco fittaiuolo – Giulio Mastrototaro, Bass
Gianni Fabbrini, Fortepiano
Recorded live at the Kurhaus Bad Wildbad, Germany, 1, 2 and 4 July 2009
for the XXI ROSSINI IN WILDBAD Festival (Artistic director: Jochen Schönleber)
Critical edition by Alberto Zedda (Universal Music Publishing, Ricordi S.r.l., Milano)
Whenever Rossini reaches an important turning-point in his artistic development he composes a “special” opera which takes up all the diverse experiences that preceded the occurrence of the idea and marks it with the particular characteristic of unusual length. Three operas with such lasting significance tower above all others: Semiramide, Guillaume Tell (William Tell) and La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) which, apart from their scale, display another common feature, the dispensing with self-borrowing, otherwise such a frequent characteristic. Semiramide, which encapsulates and completes the “Apollonian” group of opere serie begun with Tancredi, marks Rossini’s final withdrawal from Italian operatic life. Guillaume Tell represents the type of “Dionysian” opera, begun in Naples and then taken up in Paris, which makes a feature of the urge for exploration of new ground and experimentation and denotes Rossini’s farewell to a career in the theatre.
La gazza ladra, the culmination in the process of the convergence of serious and comic elements, marks the general abandonment of the production of comic operas from that point on. Rossini’s first successes with musical farse in Venice persuaded him with L’Italiana in Algeri to venture into the domain of the “comique absolu”. This extremely successful beginning already demonstrates a relentless striving with regard to scale and structure, in the painstaking care of the composition and instrumentation, in the choice of different voice types and in the importance and difficulty of the principal rôles, which call for soloists of the top rank. All this elevates Rossini’s comic operas into a sphere beyond that of his Italian forerunners. The study of the operas of Mozart, whom he revered, must surely have helped Rossini to cultivate and to develop these ambitions.
In fact La pietra del paragone and even more so Il Turco in Italia exhibit a quest for truth, a burgeoning of unsettling subjects and an eruption of psychological subtleties which shift the balance from the “comique absolu” towards the “comique signifi catif”. This development was carried forward in Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. Thanks to the intelligence and Aristotelian logic of Sterbini’s libretto after Beaumarchais, the realism of Barbiere breaks out forcefully from every corner and makes it the first true character comedy by an Italian composer. In La Cenerentola the blend of comic and serious genres is executed with such ingenuity that it exerts a profound fascination. One can sense Rossini’s efforts to fuse the contrasts between the tragic and the comic into a beautiful sparkling diamond, yet this fusion does not really happen: not until opera semiseria, of which La Cenerentola is a precursor, will Rossini succeed in achieving the notional fusion of genres. Without doubt, of his semi-serious operas, La gazza ladra comes closest to the intended ideal. The comic element confers plausibility on the feelings of the characters and so humanizes the story in order to impart (to it) the semblance of real life. Through the device of shifting the story into the world of ordinary people (a popular feature of comic opera) Rossini manages to create characters who behave in a realistic and convincing way, without assuming any idiosyncrasies of verismo. These artistic results in La gazza ladra allow us quickly to forget notions of genre and instead to admire a great tragic opera which has a happy ending. For the most part it is a “dramma giocoso” like Don Giovanni, an opera which Rossini loved, and which embodies a comic subject with a tragic dénouement.
So La gazza ladra belongs to a hybrid genre, which is also called “semiseria”, because it contains tragic as well as comic elements. In the middle of the 18th century semiseria operas arose from a taste for sentimental stories, especially the French “pièces à sauvetage” (rescue pieces) which were, already in Rossini’s time, saddled with a number of conventions: a drama with a happy ending in which the innocent party, a victim wrongfully convicted, is saved from the scaffold at the last minute and the despicable persecutor is punished.
The social background of these operas is provided by a conflict between the feudal aristocracy (replaced in La gazza ladra by an arrogant official) and the world of everyday people, usually from a peasant background. Inevitably the places where the action takes place are the village square, with the castle or the manor house of the tyrannical nobleman in the background, as well as the local prison. In La gazza ladra the dramatic elements outweigh the comic or folk-style ones, which is why the climax of the action is reached in the big court scene and in the ensuing funeral march, followed by the obligatory lieto fine (happy ending). If one considers the outstanding dramatic and musical results, which make this one of Rossini’s best operas, the meaning of “semiseria” goes beyond an amalgam of the comic and the serious, and here one can talk of a true opera seria, which is set in everyday life and not on Mount Olympus or in history. The happy ending and the presence of figures of a humbler character, some of whom verge on the grotesque, do nothing to alter this fundamental assertion.
The plot is based on a real incident and seems too weak a basis for the enormous musical edifice that Rossini builds on it. But the addition of fairytale-like and naturalistic elements, the elevation of insignificant details in symbolic situations, the presence of dark forces and the marked contrast of exemplary feelings create a meaningful genre characteristic. The struggle between good and evil is enriched by many-faceted emotions. The tragic atmosphere, already conveyed in the overture by the menacing snare-drum, is tempered by the melancholy which accompanies Ninetta’s thwarted love for Giannetto and Pippo’s gentle and secret enthusiasm. The emotional drama, emphasized by the powerful orchestral recitatives, in which Fernando’s fear is clearly expressed, also leaves room for the comic, with which the arrogance of power, as well as the passive attitude of society, are castigated. Giovanni Gherardini’s libretto, a competent literary work with seasoned dramatic skill, depicts a story in which the lieto fine, brought about by a happy accident, does not allow us to forget the underlying pessimism.
Initially, Gherardini had submitted a first version of the libretto, highly praised by Vincenzo Monti, with the title Avviso ai giudici (A Warning to Judges), penned as the result of a competition for an opera libretto organized by the imperial theatre in Milan. Allegedly the libretto was offered to Ferdinando Paër, but he did not want to set it. Rossini, on the other hand, was immediately enchanted by the story. It is based on the French play La pie voleuse (The Thieving Magpie), a “mélo-historique” (a melodrama based on a historically-documented incident) by T. Badouin d’Aubigny and Louis-Charles Caigniez, which was performed for the first time on 25 April 1815 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris. In chapter XXII of his Vie de Rossini (Life of Rossini) Stendhal mentions that the poor innocent maidservant was hanged in Palaiseau and adds that, to commemorate this miscarriage of justice, a mass, the so-called Magpie Mass, was inaugurated. In order to understand such a punishment, which is out of all proportion to the crime of which the person is accused, one should bear in mind that the story is set in the darkest time of the Napoleonic counter revolution, in which the death penalty was intended even for trifles.
From its very first performance La gazza ladra was a huge success. Even though it was produced at the end of the season 27 further performances were given following the première, on 31 May 1817 in Milan. According to tradition Rossini himself took his place at the harpsichord for the first three performances; the principal rôles were taken by the most famous singers of the day: Teresa Giorgi-Belloc (Ninetta), Savino Monelli (Giannetto), Filippo Galli (Fernando), Antonio Ambrosi (Podestà) and Teresa Gallianis (Pippo). Rossini himself was thrilled by his opera and a few days after the première wrote in an excited letter to his mother that it was so full of music that one could make three or four operas from it, and that it was the most beautiful that he had written so far.
A village near Paris.
 In the courtyard of the estate of Fabrizio Vingradito a celebration is being prepared for the return from the wars of the son of the house. The peasants tease the young Pippo because he is allowing himself to be made a fool of by a magpie.  Lucia, Vingradito’s wife, is indignant about the relaxed mood and her husband’s absence, when he arrives with a basket full of wine bottles. When marriage plans for his son are mentioned, the magpie chimes in with a cheeky cry of “Ninetta, Ninetta”, a choice approved by all except Lucia, who doesn’t want her son to be married to a maidservant.  The thought that Giannetto will soon be in their midst to tell them of his war adventures fills them all with joy.  Lucia squabbles with her husband, who takes Ninetta under his wing, while she reproaches Ninetta for being unreliable. Giannetto is expected at any moment and his parents want to go to meet him.  Ninetta enters with a basket of freshly picked strawberries. She is in a state of happy nervousness, because today she will see her beloved and her father again. Her happiness allows her to forget the pains of separation.  Lucia gives Ninetta the silver cutlery and reproachfully urges her to take more care of it; a fork has already gone missing. Ninetta protests her innocence.  At the top of his voice the wandering pedlar Isacco advertises his wares for purchase or exchange.  Pippo offers him no hope of any business today.  Cheerful music announces Giannetto’s arrival; elated, Ninetta, Pippo and all the servants come running. Giannetto throws his arms around his beloved and confesses that even in battle she was always with him. He can hardly express in words the joy he feels at seeing her again.  Now is the time to clink glasses and for Pippo to strike up a lively drinking-song.  While the employees withdraw, the family leaves to visit relatives. Ninetta, who is in charge of the estate by herself, is just checking the knives and forks when a man dressed in shabby clothes approaches. She recognizes him as her father Fernando Villabella, but he discourages her from showing too much happiness.  In a dispute with his commanding officer, who refused him leave to visit his daughter, he was stripped of his weapons, and immediately sentenced to death. A fellow soldier helped him to escape.  Only eternal exile can save his life. Grief-stricken, father and daughter take leave of each other. Then they see Gottardo, the mayor, approaching from afar. Fernando wraps himself in his coat and pretends to be asleep. Ninetta carries on clearing the tables.  The mayor has sneaked up on Ninetta because he knows that she is alone. He has a plan to bring the stubborn beauty to heel, and exults at the thought of conquering her.  He greets Ninetta in a fulsomely flattering way and wants her to send the beggar away. But since he is still asleep he doesn’t insist upon it and begins to court Ninetta. Then, to the mayor’s annoyance, his servant Giorgio turns up with an official letter. While the mayor sits down to read it and looks for his glasses, Fernando manages to hand over to his daughter a piece of silver cutlery to pawn it and hide the money for him in a hole in a nearby chestnut tree. Just as Fernando is about to leave, the mayor orders him to stay; the missive he has just received is a warrant for the arrest of a deserter, which the mayor, having no glasses, gives to Ninetta to read.  Hesitantly, she begins to read aloud the warrant of arrest for her own father. Plucking up courage she reads out to the mayor a false personal description. He does not recognize in Fernando the description of the wanted person and brusquely sends him away.  The mayor carries on propositioning Ninetta. Fernando watches for a while from a place of concealment until he can control himself no longer and hurls abuse at him.  While Ninetta tries to placate the quarrelling men, the magpie swoops down to the table, grabs a silver spoon and flies off with it.
 Ninetta sells her father’s silver cutlery to Isacco, who is just passing by, and puts the money in her apron. Pippo rebukes her for having approached the pedlar instead of him. On her way to the chestnut tree Ninetta is detained by Lucia, who has just returned home with Giannetto and Fabrizio; she is accompanied by the mayor and his secretary, whom they have met along the way. Lucia counts the silver cutlery and angrily points out to Ninetta that a spoon is missing, in addition to the fork which disappeared a short while before. In spite of Fabrizio’s protests the mayor immediately arranges for a legal hearing; after all the law punishes such a theft with the death penalty!  In the course of the interrogation he hears that Ninetta is the daughter of Fernando Villabella, the wanted deserter. As Ninetta takes a handkerchief from her apron to dry her tears, the money falls to the ground. Pippo knows that she received it from the pedlar, who is immediately summoned.  Isacco explains that he has already sold on the silverware but remembers that it bore the initials F.V.; every indication suggests that Ninetta has stolen from her master Fabrizio Vingradito. In order not to betray her father, she withholds the truth, which would absolve her.  Guards are called and Ninetta is led away, while the dismayed crowd curses the implacability of the mayor, who is inwardly jubilant.
The courtyard of the prison in the town hall.
 The gaoler Antonio feels sympathy for Ninetta and is willing to have Pippo sent for, as Ninetta wishes. When Giannetto asks to be let in, Antonio even allows the lovers a tryst. Giannetto begs his beloved to explain everything so that she can be cleared of blame.  Ninetta is ready to die and hopes that one day her fidelity and innocence will be revealed. Both surrender themselves to their anguish.  Antonio comes running in and warns them that the mayor is approaching: Giannetto must leave immediately and Ninetta must return to her cell! They take leave of each other in a state of agitation.  By order of the mayor Antonio leads the prisoner out. Ninetta will only accept the mayor’s offer to release her if her honour is restored fully and completely.  The mayor promises her that—but only if she will comply with his wishes. Ninetta calls for help, while the mayor tries to embrace her. Suddenly voices are heard outside: the guards are summoning the mayor to attend the court case. Annoyed by Ninetta’s rejection he explains that his love for her has changed into hatred and anger and that he will show no more mercy.  Antonio is outraged by the mayor’s behaviour and brings Pippo and Ninetta together. She asks him to take her money and put it in the hiding-place in the tree.  Ninetta insists that he accept as a gift her necklace with the cross, for perhaps today this trinket will be worthless to her. Deeply moved, the boy kisses the cross, which he will always carry with him. Choked with emotion, the two of them cannot hold back their tears.  Ninetta asks Pippo to give her ring to Giannetto, since she will never see him again. Pippo bravely promises to carry everything out, while his heart is almost breaking. Ninetta and her loyal friend depart in tears.
In Fabrizio’s house.
 The worried Fernando has surreptitiously presented himself at Fabrizio’s house, where he learns from the distraught Lucia that Ninetta has been imprisoned as a thief.  Fernando is beside himself and fears for the life of his daughter whom he cannot help because his own life is in mortal danger. Eventually he banishes all his fears and decides to do everything he can to rescue her, contemptuous of his own death.
The courtroom in the Town Hall.
 In the presence of the jury and the people the magistrate pronounces that the accused has been unanimously convicted.  The judges declare to the cowed people the implacability of Themis, the goddess of law and order. The magistrate reads out the verdict: Ninetta Villabella has been found guilty of theft from her employer and is sentenced to death.  All shudder at the pronouncement. Giannetto harangues the judges and explains that Ninetta has a secret which will prove her innocence. But when she maintains her silence the judges call for the sentence to be carried out immediately.  Then Fernando rushes in, intent on saving his daughter’s life with his own blood. He is promptly arrested by the mayor as a deserter, while the sentence of Ninetta is declared final and irrevocable.  All are seized by a feeling of helplessness. Ninetta wants to explain everything but the law enforcers press for the immediate implementation of the sentence: the father in prison and the daughter at the place of execution!  In horror all those present comment that the two are not even allowed to embrace each other, and even the judges and the mayor must fight off their own feelings.
The village square.
 Lucia comes out of the church: she feels relieved after her penitent soul has implored heaven for mercy.  She hopes for the return of Ninetta, whom she will love like a daughter.  Pippo has put the money in the hollow trunk of the tree and now wants to see how much is left for him. He puts to one side a shiny coin which Ninetta once gave him as a gift. As he is counting the rest of the money the magpie hops by, snatches the coin and flies away. Giorgio, who has just come past, has seen the magpie fly off to the church tower. Pippo is determined to climb up after the magpie and Antonio goes with him.  Ninetta is led to the place of execution. All the people of the village follow her tearfully. Pausing in front of the church, Ninetta asks God to give her strength and to spare the life of her father.  Then she continues on her way and her preparedness for death blends with the sobbing of the people.  Suddenly Pippo and Antonio are heard calling from the church tower: they have found everything in the magpie’s nest and hold up the cutlery. Giorgio does not react, at which the pair ring the church bells. All come running and Antonio announces that the magpie is the thief. Fabrizio and Giannetto race off to the place of execution in order to prevent her death. The mayor disbelieves the explanation of why the bells are ringing. At that moment shots ring out from afar; under the impression that the execution has been carried out Lucia collapses. But then the jubilant crowd arrives, rushing ahead of the freed Ninetta—the shots were fired out of sheer joy.  Ninetta is relieved but cannot be happy until she knows the fate of her father. Suddenly he appears, together with his fellow soldier, who has just this minute arrived bringing with him a reprieve for Fernando from the king. All embrace and Lucia gives Ninetta Giannetto’s hand.  While Ninetta and Fernando, together with Giannetto and Pippo, express their relief one after the other, a feeling joyfully shared by all, the mayor, disgruntled, stands apart from the crowd.
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