eOddly enough, the introduction is better known than the actual piece. This may be due to the fact that “La gazza ladra”, in English: “The thieving magpie”, does not conform to the cliches of comic opera, and was even described as a “melodrama” by Gioachino Rossini himself. Even the gruesome story of a young Ninetta, who was sentenced to death for stealing a spoon, suggests that not everything Rossini composed in 1817 for an essay by Giovanni Gherardini sounds funny. This intermediate genre as a quasi-opera should be just as deterrent as the length of “La gazza ladra”, which lasts about three and a half hours with secco quotations featured. Radical piece versions brought Rossini’s operas a reputation early in the nineteenth century. just after World War II There has been a gradual revival of the piece, which received an additional boost with Alberto Zida’s critical edition in 1979.
Perhaps this turbulent history also explains the public’s great interest in the new production of “La gazza ladra” in the almost sold-out E-hall of the Museumsquartier, where the MusikTheater an der Wien has relocated due to the renovation of the original building. Unfortunately, the room again proved acoustically unsuitable for opera performances. The lengths of canvas that are nailed in front of the stage gate are simply not enough to be able to adequately stage the opera musically in the next two years. Professional vocal adaptations were sorely needed, for even in the best seats the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, which had played clearly and accurately, sounded strangely distant under the careful direction of Antonino Fogliani.
However, this production was not convincing because of the performance circumstances alone. Compared to his other productions, the latest being “Die Csárdásfürstin” in Klagenfurt (2014) in Austria, director Tobias Kratzer chose an exotic, realistic style for the play in his late Vienna debut. Designed by his longtime design partner Rainer Sellmaier, the stage shows a poor two-story farmhouse today. A kitchen can be seen at the bottom right, a scullery above, and in the middle is a courtyard in front of a large gate, over which a connecting footbridge leads to the left, where there is a workshop below and an upper case. Detailed furnishings are sparse, but a mob of soldiers stormed in during the parade to loot the supplies in the kitchen. The country, which seems quite European, is clearly in a civil war-like state, just as Rossini’s operas were written immediately after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
The piece’s near-surreal level of movement is only tentatively defined by a video shot from the perspective of a magpie’s flight, swooping down on glittering objects, so that it becomes clear from the outset who the spoon thief really is. Otherwise, only the pianist Robert Lillinger, who deftly accompanies Sycco’s recitations, hints at the dark musical layers of Rossini’s music on stage as a vaguely artificial figure: sometimes in the workshop, sometimes in the kitchen, the fortepiano plays soberly.
Only in the courtroom scene in Act Two, which gives Rossini almost grotesque features through faster, louder episodes, does the peasant world really enter into disarray. Otherwise, events are dominated by gags aimed at effects: a tractor in which Giannetto returns home from the war (try: Maksim Mironov), an old Mercedes, in which a lecherous Podesta drives from the village in a double-breasted car (existing despite initial difficulties: Nahuel De Piero). When he is almost hit by a magpie droppings during his exit, this distracts him further from the heart of the events revolving around abuse of power, which Podestà views as a grim campaign of revenge after Ninetta’s rejection.
As little Kratzer’s down-to-earth approach does justice to the terrifying events in “La gazza ladra,” the band also lacks the eloquence of the music – apart from Arnold Schoenberg’s groovy chorus. Georgian soprano Nino Machidze has an exuberant cut, and sometimes a guttural timbre for the lead role of Ninetta. Singing in an almost constant forte, the cantabile lines of the part in particular cause her great difficulties, which is all the more serious because Ninetta is in many ensembles. Paolo Bordonia as Fernando Villabella, Ninetta’s father, and Croatian mezzo-soprano Diana Haller as Pippo, who also achieves the best acting scenes, are more convincing. However: even after the premiere of the young director’s film, Stefan Herrheim still has a lot of room for improvement.