Opera Scotland

Gazza Ladra 1828De Begnis Italian Opera Company

Read more about the opera Thieving Magpie

The travelling company of Giuseppe De Begnis was resident in Edinburgh from December 1827 to January 1828, performing not just concerts but opera too.

The Rossinian element of the Edinburgh season by these London-based Italians developed in seriousness through the month, with the farcical Barber of Seville followed by the more subtle Turk in Italy. The Thieving Magpie is not a comedy at all, and only narrowly avoids a tragic outcome, in spite of the identity of the genuine culprit being revealed in the title. It is a large-scale piece, and must have stretched the resources of this company. The fourth work, containing a plum comic role for De Begnis himself, was Mayr's Fanatico per la musica.

The particular plotline of The Thieving Magpie will have been familiar to local audiences through the frequent performances of a version of the source play, usually under the title The Magpie and the Maid. The Theatre Royal's stock company of actors put it on earlier in the visit, on some of the nights when the opera company were resting.

The Edinburgh Evening Courant of Monday, 14 January, was generally enthusiastic, though disappointed by the obvious indisposition suffered by the boss, 'going on' despite labouring under a heavy cold.

'The beautiful and touching opera La Gazza Ladra was produced on Thursday evening, and received the unanimous applause of a very crowded house. It was represented, however, under considerable disadvantage, as Signor De Begnis was, in consequence of his dreadful hoarseness, under the necessity of omitting much of his part, which is the most powerful in the piece. Indeed, we wondered how he got on at all, for he was quite unable to produce a single tone; but everyone must have perceived the severe oppression of cold under which he laboured. His acting, however, was very fine, displaying uncommon talents for the serious, more indeed than could have been imagined by those who had hitherto only witnessed his admirable comic powers.

'Miss Ayton personated the character of Ninetta in a manner full of tenderness and pathos. Her bursts of uncontrolled and passionate anguish at her father's departure, and her indignation at, and repulsion of, the brutal advances of the Magistrate, were admirably conceived and expressed. The whole performance was natural, and as such went to the heart at once. What could be more touching than the parting embrace with her father, when she clings to him with a fondness and an ardour, which nought but the rough soldiery could dissolve? Here there was no stiffness, no studied action; it was the impulse of the moment; and it thus gave the impression of reality, which the cold formal mock embrace of an English actress entirely fails to produce.

'Signora Castelli looked beautiful in her male costume, and performed her part with her usual excellence, imparting to it all those delicate shades of feeling in which one attached friend may be expected to indulge towards another in misfortune. The Angelis and Giubilei acted their respective parts very creditably. Signor Angeli was really admirable as the old man, both in his dress and in his performance. And we must not forget our own actor, Mr Felton, who personated the Jew pedlar in a manner which called forth much approbation.'

The Courant also gave a lengthy description of the musical performance.

'The music of La Gazza Ladra is too well known and admired to need much notice. The beautiful introduction is familiar in the ball-room and in the chamber. ''Di piacer' has run the course of Europe and stood the test of universal criticism, as being one of Rossini's greatest and most effective compositions. Miss Ayton sung it with much fine and powerful expression. The whole of the sixth scene was in Rossini's best manner, and in respect of action merely, entitled Miss Ayton and De Begnis to high praise. The same remark applies to the ninth scene, in which occurs the truly splendid terzetto ''O Numi benefico'' - a composition worthy of any author, particulrly at the stretta commencing  ''Trema, ingrata'' which is wound up with much strength and vigour. And the finale to the first act is rich in effect, and powerful in depicting the various passions which agitate the breasts of the different characters. In this Miss Ayton was most impressive and affecting.

'The second act abounds in gems of the first water........Signora Castelli, too, gave great effect to the agitated passage, ''Mi cadono''. And the delicious stretto ''Vedo, etc'' was almost too much to bear. In short we may just say that this duett is considered, by all competent judges, to be a master-piece of impassioned feeling and pathetic declamation; and it is not going too far to add, that we should not care to hear it better performed. ''Infelice oventurata'' is another most successful effort of Rossini. Was it not played rather too fast? The band was not so accurate as usual, and the overture was played too slow, by which it lost much of its brilliancy.''

An immediate repeat planned to follow after the first night was postponed because of the illness of Giuseppe de Begnis. The performance on 17 January was announced as the conductor's benefit night, with De Begnis performing his big solo called 'The Director of the Orchestra'. This had given him great success a couple of weeks earlier in Il fanatico per la musica.

Performance Cast

Pippo a young peasant in Fabrizio's service

Signora Castelli

Lucia wife of Fabrizio

Madame de Angeli

Fabrizio Vingradito a prosperous farmer

Alessandro de Angeli

Ninetta a servant in Fabrizio's household

Fanny Ayton

Isaaco a wandering pedlar

Mr Felton

Giannetto a young soldier, son of Fabrizio and Lucia

Signor Torri

Fernando Villabella a soldier, Ninetta's father

Signor Giubilei

Gottardo the Mayor (Podestà)

Giuseppe de Begnis

Production Cast


Vincenzo Gabussi

Performance DatesGazza Ladra 1828

Map List

Theatre Royal, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

10 Jan, 19.30 17 Jan, 19.30

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