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Rossini’s 1817 opera The Thieving Magpie received a rare boost in the British tabloid press when a judge claimed not to have heard of the footballer Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, musing, ‘Is there not an opera called Gazza Ladra?’
Well, this is that very work. It was a welcome, if fleeting, popular acknowledgement for what was allegedly the quickest stage work Rossini had ever produced. He was already legendary for the speed at which he could write an opera, once saying, "Give me a laundry list, and I will set it to music".
Quick, he may have been. But that didn’t always mean that he delivered everything on time. The overture to The Thieving Magpie was overdue and the opera’s promoter reportedly had to lock Rossini in a room to force him to get it done. He is said to have thrown each sheet out of the window as it was finished in order that the copyists might get it to the orchestra on time. This overture is a perennial highlight, featuring a startling opening snare drum just to make sure that everyone is awake.
(Overture only) Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Yoel Levi (conductor); Telarc: CD80334.
Illustration: Mark Millington