Herbert Wolff Reviews "The Thieving Magpie" At Glimmerglass

Aug 9, 2016

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself at the Glimmerglass Festival this summer, you will not soon forget the onstage character of a “thieving magpie.”  She makes certain of that from the start – during the best known piece of music in Rossini’s opera of the same name.  This is a stirring, march-like overture, an excellent match for pecking bird.

Let me explain…

In this utterly charming presentation of the seldom performed Thieving Magpie, a very attractive dancer/choreographer – Meg Gillentine – is bedecked in bright blue hair, blue stockings, a tutu of white feathers, and red booties.  To the knowledge of patrons and reviewers, this is the first time a performer is asked to depict the opera’s title, and the naughty bird’s role in the plot.  True to the rest of the production, this inventive non-singing character is proof that every exaggeration has its place.

The Thieving Magpie is delicious frippery…and home to some gorgeous music, both solo and ensemble.  Classified as an opera seria – not a comic opera like Rossini’s Barber of Seville or Cenerentola – this two-act melodrama has a near-calamitous ending…avoided by a last-minute rescue and revelation of the truth.

The story begins with the imminent arrival home of Giannetto, from the war.  His father, a wealthy farmer, hopes he will marry the lovely servant, Ninetta.  Not so his mother, however… who suspects Ninetta has pinched a piece of household silverware.  The theft, as you may have guessed, was actually done by the family’s pet magpie.

Other misunderstandings and characters flow in abundance.  There is Ninetta’s disheveled army-deserter father…the mayor who lusts after her…a wily peddler…Ninetta’s confidante, Pippo…and a magistrate, hell-bent on carrying out the letter of the law – death for domestic stealing.

Amid the details, confusion and occasional bleakness of the plot, our magpie, Ms. Gillentine, lingers and mimes with marvelous antics.  Other characters also sport feathery apertures and comic bird-like twitches.

The voices and portrayals in this production are impeccably matched to Rossini’s demands.  As Ninetta, soprano Rachele Gilmore has all the sweetness and vocal elasticity necessary to carry off the coloratura expectations of a Rossini heroine.  Similarly, Giannetto, played by tenor Michele Agnelli, nails his challenging runs and leaps, executing them with sincerity and aplomb as well as with a fine, powerful voice.

Along with the superb singing is expert balance: conductor Joseph Colaneri keeps his orchestra in check in quieter moments, and lets it soar in boisterous scenes.  Myung Hee Cho has fashioned marvelous costumes.  The simple set was rendered brilliant by Mark McCullough’s lighting – and, of course, the overall direction of the production by Peter Kazaras.

This is a show infused with energy and imagination.  May that inspire you to make a trip, or a detour, to the Glimmerglass Festival this summer.  The Thieving Magpie plays on selected dates in Cooperstown, New York, until August 29th.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on live television. He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For over 25 years he has been an on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

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