Chailly Leads Teatro alla Scala in a Fast-Paced and Highly Imaginative Production of La gazza ladra

ItalyItaly Rossini, La gazza ladra (ed. Zedda): Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan / Riccardo Chailly. Live cinecast at Barbican Cinema 2, London, 18.4.2017. (CC)

Ninetta – Rosa Frola
Pippo – Serena Malfi
Lucia – Teresa Iervolino
Fabrizio Vingradito – Paolo Bordogna
Giannetto – Edgardo Rocha
Fernando Villabella – Alex Esposito
Gottardo – Michele Pertusi
Ernesto – Giovanni Romeo
Giorgio – Claudio Levantino
Antonio – Matteo Mezzaro
Isacco – Matteo Macchioni
La gazza (acrobat) – Francesca Alberti
Magistrate – Daniele Maccianelli

Director – Gabriele Salvatores
Sets & Costumes – Gianmaurizio Fercioni
Puppetry – Carlo Colla and Sons Company

While cinecasts from the Met have been closely-choreographed affairs, with tons of backstage footage and interviews, this Scala one was more low-key. Excerpts from an interview with Chailly revealed this Zedda edition is as complete as can be imagined – the projected finish time was 11pm from a 7pm start (it was about 20 minutes shy of that in the end). Chailly referred to the score as “a musical cathedral”. Quite a claim but in fairness the work does have ambitions: La gazza ladra is probably best classified as an opera semiseria: there is no missing the buffo elements, from the froth of the familiar overture to the onstage frolickery; but Rossini inserts tragic elements, including a notably extended, and brilliantly composed, funeral march to bring in balance. The real surprise is that the opera has not been staged at Milan for 176 years; the production also celebrates two centuries since the premiere in 1817.

The staging itself is a revelation. The magpie is played by an acrobat (the unfeasibly bendy-limbed Francesca Alberti) who not only steals and hoards, but seems to observe and even direct the actions on stage: an avian Grand Architect, perhaps. Messiaen would doubtless be cheering this one on. The use of marionettes adds an extra layer of depth to what we see: while singers emote, the puppets reveal interior emotions in a charming visual complement to the action. The stage itself (sets by Gianmaurizio Fercioni) is a basic, multi-function space evoking the nineteenth century with intriguing pulleys, operated a lot of the time by the dancer-magpie. Not all critical responses have been positive in regards to Gabriele Salvatores’ staging (he is better known for his filmic work: Mediterraneo, Marrakesh Express …), but his real achievement was perhaps capturing the more serious side of the piece.

The Overture, with its side-drum opening (two side drums, at opposed sides of the orchestra) seems to imply froth all the way, with its infectious rhythms and delicious Rossini crescendos. The Scala orchestra was on top form, light and sparkly. Ensemble was splendid, almost throughout (just the odd moment later on in the opera between orchestra and chorus). It acted as a reminder of just how fine a conductor Chailly can be; the later, more serious, riposte to the opening froth was just as impressive. There is clearly a fine rapport between Chailly and his players.

A word while we’re on the non-singers for the fortepianist, James Vaughan, superb in his accompaniment to the recitatives; a light touch, infinitely responsive to the dramatic situations.

While Michele Pertusi’s expertly-delivered Gottardo (who appears at one point dressed as Count Dracula, the archetypal “baddie”) reminds us of his experience and wonderful stage presence, it is to the younger generation of singers that this production is geared. Ninetta, the central character who is wrongly accused of the theft of a spoon and thence sentenced to death (which seems overkill to me), is taken by the excellent Rosa Feola, who impressed my colleague Rick Perdian in her assumption of Gilda in Zurich in 2016 (review); Martyn Harrison, too, enjoyed her Sandrina (Finta giardiniera) at Glyndebourne in 2015 (review). Here, she was in total command, finding pathos as well as humour, her agile, bright voice perfectly chosen for the role.

Alex Esposito was an initially rather nervous Figaro (Mozart) at Covent Garden in May 2014; his Fernando Villabella (the full name is important for the plot as it shares the same initials with the character Fabrizio Vingradito) was more consistent, even if it did not fully live up to the excellence of much of the rest of the cast.

Serena Malfi impressed me hugely at Covent Garden as Rosina (Barbiere) in 2014; she was no less impressive here, full-voiced and revelling in every single opportunity to shine in the trouser role of Pippo. Perhaps Paolo Borgodna’s Fabrizio was not quite as characterful or full-voiced, but it held its own. Teresa Iervolino made the most of the expressive challenges of Lucia while the smaller roles were consistently cast from strength. As the comedic magistrate (think Mozart Così), Daniele Macciantelli made the most of the fun.

This is an ensemble opera, and Chailly ensured we experienced it as such, interactions between characters beautifully (and sometimes racily) paced. Yes, it is a long evening, but with musicality like this, it flew by. A terrific evening, well worth catching.

Colin Clarke

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