Opera Scotland

Thieving Magpie The Thieving Magpie; La gazza ladra

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Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868)


Giovanni Gherardini


Play La pie voleuse (1815) by J M T Baudoin d’Aubigny and L C Caigniez.



First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 31 May 1817.

First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 10 March 1821.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 10 January 1828.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



La gazza ladra is a form of opera known as semi-seria, which means, in essentials, that the storyline is serious, but nobody dies. It is not a whodunit, because the very title tells us that the magpie is the guilty party. The plot piles on more and more evidence against the innocent Ninetta, so that the tension arises from the conduct of the various characters leading up to the execution scene, and the revelations in the nick of time which allow the happy ending. The source play remained popular in various forms (in Britain The Magpie and the Maid was a common title). Real life may be less likely to have happy endings, and the play, it seems, was derived from a true story in which the culprit was only revealed after the execution.


Main Characters

Fabrizio Vingradito, a prosperous farmer (baritone)

Lucia, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Giannetto, their son, a soldier (tenor)

Ninetta, a servant in their household (mezzo-soprano)

Fernando Villabella, a soldier, Ninetta’s father (bass)

The Mayor (bass)

Pippo, a young peasant in Fabrizio’s service (mezzo-soprano)


Plot Summary

Giannetto is returning from army service. He loves, and is loved by, Ninetta. Fabrizio is happy at the prospect of a marriage, but Lucia is not. A silver fork has gone missing, and she suspects Ninetta of carelessness. While father, mother and son visit the neighbours, Ninetta, left in charge, is visited by her father. He is disguised in rags, and has deserted from the army, where he was awaiting execution for insubordination. He gives her a silver fork and spoon to sell on his behalf. She sells them to a passing pedlar, and fails to notice that her mistress’s pet magpie has flown off with a silver spoon. When the family returns, the shortage of cutlery is discovered, as is the cash Ninetta has suddenly gained. The pedlar, having sold the cutlery, can only say that it had the initials FV engraved. Ninetta, determined to save her father, does not point out the coincidence of the initials. She is marched off to prison. The mayor, who had already tried to seduce her, points out that the appropriate penalty for the theft is summary execution. In her cell, Ninetta is visited by Giannetto, who is convinced of her innocence, and by her friend Pippo. She persuades him to take some money to her father. At the trial, Fernando comes to give himself up in order to save his daughter, but he is dragged off to prison. Unaware of this, Pippo is counting his cash, helped by the gaoler. News comes firstly of a pardon granted to Fernando, then of Ninetta’s condemnation. The magpie steals one of the coins and flies to the belfry. Ninetta is marched off to the town square for her execution. Pippo and the gaoler, finding the magpie’s hoard, have to ring the bells to prevent the execution.

The Cast

 the gaoler
 a soldier, friend of Fernando
Fabrizio Vingradito
 a prosperous farmer
Fernando Villabella
 a soldier, Ninetta's father
 a young soldier, son of Fabrizio and Lucia
 servant to the Mayor
 the Mayor (Podestà)
 Clerk to the court
 a wandering pedlar
 wife of Fabrizio
 a servant in Fabrizio's household
 a young peasant in Fabrizio's service
Voice of the Magpie

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