There's an air of familiarity to Rossini's La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), and it's not just the famous overture (reputedly dashed off the evening before the first performance) that is second in popularity only to the composer's overture to William Tell, nor in this case is it anything to do with the composer's habit of reusing his music for other compositions. What is familiar to the point of predictability in La Gazza Ladra (written in 1817 between la Cenerentola and Armida) is the manner in which its opera semiseria melodrama plotline plays out. What differentiates this opera from other lesser examples of the style is the fact that - obviously - it's by Rossini, and being Rossini, the music is always melodically thrilling and inventive. The hook in this particular opera is of course that thieving magpie theme that flits through the opera musically, as well as the recognition of it as a playful dramatic theme, a deus ex machina element, that pops in now and again to move the plot along and prevent it from getting bogged down in melodramatic excess.
A period staging won't cut it in a modern context when the plot can be as stodgy and old-fashioned as this, even with Rossini's music to enliven it. At the same time, it's a mistake to get too clever, since the singers have enough on their plates with the extreme technical demands on their singing without being encumbered with elaborate acting and movements. Directed by Damiano Michieletto, this production - like most for this style of opera nowadays - goes for stylised colourful, minimalist, picture-book style imagery with no attempt at realism of locations, and theatrical costumes of no fixed period or style. There's no grand concept either, though it does have a theme and some unusual touches - a grouping of all-purpose pipes that can be adapted to represent trees, pillars, cannons, prison bars - and an acrobat dancer to play the part of the magpie, a playful touch that works quite well.
The singing is hit and miss, but by and large it's a decent account of the opera. Mariola Cantarero is a fine Ninetta, with a lovely tone of voice that is more than capable of reaching all the notes and making them count. Dmitry Korchak has a nice tone of voice, but there's little character in it and the demands of the Giannetto tenor role are a little beyond him. Alex Exposito is an excellent Fernando, his baritone not quite as strong as the role calls for, but he has a wonderful voice, sings well and, just as importantly, puts character and feeling into the role of Ninetta's conflicted father. Michele Pertusi plays Gottardo, the sleazy magistrate with the hots for the heroine - another convention of the genre and one that Pertusi, as a villainous bass, is well used to playing, and he plays up to the role reasonably well. The orchestra conducted by Lü Jia give an excellent, lively and sympathetic account of the score, even if the detail of their work isn't all that clear on this release.
For their first foray into High Definition, Dynamic's upgrade of this 2007 production isn't the greatest. Previously available on DVD, the Blu-ray is scarcely an improvement on the Standard Definition version in either video quality or sound. That's disappointing, but the quality itself isn't bad, the image remaining colourful, if soft and lacking in fine detail, and the movement blurring is mild. The audio, available in PCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS HD Master-Audio 5.1 is rather thin for the orchestration, but the singing is clear throughout. It should be noted however that all the singers are wearing microphones. The BD is also one of those that 'loads' and takes over your player, but I didn't notice it causing any problems. Menus, pop-ups and subtitle selection all work fine. There are no extra features on the disc, but there is a booklet in Italian and English. Region free, BD50, 1080i, subtitles in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.