A “Gazza Ladra” That Convinces

Review by: Robert Levine

8.660369-71 bk Gazza_EU.indd

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

This, Rossini’s 20th opera, composed for Milan in 1817 while he was in residence composing serious operas in Naples, was an immediate success and ran up 27 performances after the premiere. The opera fell out of favor within a few decades but the overture remains one of the composer’s most famous, and while there are occasional revivals, it remains to the side of the basic repertory.

The plot is somewhat confusing and there is a plethora of lower men’s voices. I saw a video of it many years ago and of course found it easier to follow, but if you don’t readily recognize the bass-baritone’s voice on a recording, or know the plot scene by scene, it’s easy to lose your way. In fact there are 11 solo roles, and in some way or another they each contribute to the plot–can you think of another major opera that has the same number besides Les contes d’Hoffmann, which changes stories and is in a class by itself? (Khovanschina is in the running, but it only has two main low voices.) But it has a fine aria or three as well as duets both spry and filled with pathos, and the ensembles are up to Rossini’s highest standards.

It is an opera semi-seria–a non-buffo opera that has some comic moments and that ends happily. In brief: Ninetta (soprano) is a servant in the home of Fabrizio (bass-baritone) and Lucia (mezzo); she is engaged to their son, Giannetto (tenor). There is another servant, Pippo (mezzo), and a local peddler, Isaaco (tenor). Ninetta’s loving father, Fernando (bass-baritone), shows up, back from the war, but in trouble: he fought with his captain and left, and is now condemned to death as a deserter. He gives Ninetta two pieces of silver to sell in order to get money for his escape.

The Mayor, Gottardo (or “Podesta”, bass-baritone), arrives with his servant, Giorgio (bass-baritone), searching for Fernando to arrest him; he has designs on Ninetta but she rebuffs him. When they leave, a magpie descends and steals one of Lucia’s silver spoons. Soon, Ninetta is blamed for the theft, and in a scramble drops the money that she raised selling her father’s silver to Isaaco. At a trial, Ninetta is condemned to death–a staggeringly uneven crime/punishment ratio (the incident is actually based on a true story).

Fernando breaks into the courtroom to confess to the crime but he is arrested for his own desertion and Ninetta is led to the scaffold. For plot reasons alone, someone named Ernesto arrives with a pardon for Fernando, Pippo offers him help to the Podesta’s house, and Ernesto gives Pippo a silver coin for his trouble. Just then, the magpie swoops down and takes the coin out of Pippo’s hand and flies up to his nest. Pippo climbs up and finds the coin–and the spoon! (Could you faint?) Ninetta is saved and everyone rejoices.

This 2009 recording was made live at the Rossini Festival in Wildbad and is led by Alberto Zedda. It’s a fine performance with lively interaction among the characters, and if one is willing to actually work along with it and pay attention to the plot, the distinctions become clearer. Zedda takes the work very seriously, so that we actually are alarmed by the injustice and appalled by the Podesta’s attempted molestation of Ninetta (he sings a perky patter song, which can confuse the not-attentive-enough listener further), and are touched by the love and concern between Fernando and Ninetta. The leading tenor role is comparably minor, but his music is exciting.

Maria José Moreno’s voice has a bit of an edge, but this somehow adds to Ninetta’s predicament, and she sounds suitably young. Lorenzo Regazzo’s Podesta even sounds bullying in his patter song and almost pops through the speakers with character. Tenor Kenneth Tarver executes Giannetto’s florid, high music with aplomb and fine tone, making this character stronger than usual. Bruno Pratico wins the heart as Fernando, and Mariana Rewerski, in the trouser role of Pippo, is both mellifluous and colorful. Stefan Cifolelli’s Isaaco is sung for drama and not laughs, and Lucia, a suspicious, judgmental matriarch, is brought to life by Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade’s mezzo. The rest of the cast is fine.

Competition is either the Chandos recording, which is cut and in English; a 2007 Pesaro performance on Dynamic that I have not heard; or a Sony Classical performance from Pesaro in 1989 with a spectacular Samuel Ramey as the wicked Podesta and Katia Ricciarelli at her warmest as Ninetta. The Sony recording is almost on a par with this new one, but I’d stick with the new one, which has more theatrical flair.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; Ramey, Ricciarelli (Sony Classical)

  • Kenneth Tarver, Stefan Cifolelli (tenor); Maria José Moreno (soprano); Bruno Pratico, Lorenzo Regazzo, Giulio Mastrototaro (bass-baritone); Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, Mariana Rewerski (mezzo-soprano); others
  • Classica Chamber Choir Brno, Virtuosi Brunensis, Alberto Zedda

Share This Review: