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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Scala Di Seta (The Silken Ladder) - farsa giocosa in one act (1812)
Libretto by Giuseppe Foppa.
First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice, 9 May 1812
Germano, a servant, Alessandro Corbelli (bass); Giulia, Luciana Serra (sop); Dorvil, Giulia’s husband, David Kuebler (ten); Blansac, Alberto Rinaldi (bass-bar); Lucilla, Giulia’s cousin, Jane Bunnell (sop); Dormont, Giulia’s father, David Griffith (ten)
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart, Germany/Gianluigi Gelmetti
Stage production of the Oper der Stadt Köln and Opera de Montpellier from the Schwetzingen Festival
rec. live, Rokotheater Schwetzingen, 6-8 May 1990
Stage production and design by Michael Hempe.
Costumes by Chiara Donato
Directed for TV by Claus Villar
Picture format NTSC 4:3. Colour. Sound Formats: PCM stereo; DD 5.1; DTS 5.1.
Subtitles in English, German, Spanish, Italian and French
EURO ARTS DVD 20549078 [100:00]

 

 

La Scala di Seta comes in at number six in the Rossini oeuvre and was staged when the composer was a mere twenty years of age. Having parents who were musicians with contacts in the trade was invaluable in setting the young Gioachino along the path of success. His first opera was composed during his time as a student at the Bologna Liceo Musicale that he had entered at age fourteen. It was a commission by the tenor Domenico Marbelli, a friend of his parents who, together with his two daughters, formed the nucleus of an itinerant operatic group of a type commonly found at that time. That work, Demetrio e Polibio, was not staged until May 1812 by which time five of Rossini’s other works had been, including the La scala di seta one of the five farse he composed for the Teatro San Moise in Venice. An excellent audio collection of all the five farse, originally recorded by Claves, is now available at bargain price from Brilliant (see review).

The Teatro San Moise in Venice was the smallest of the three theatres regularly presenting opera in that city. The audience expected new works and the impresario would commission several each season guaranteeing at least three performances each. The theatre was run on a shoestring and such farse required little scenery or staging. Given that the San Moise had a good roster of singers it was an ideal opportunity for Rossini when another composer reneged on his contract. A family friend pressed the young Gioachino’s case and he was offered the opportunity to replace him. His La Cambiale di Matrimonio with its pace, energy and wit was well received. Rossini was only 19 and his career was off to a cracking start. After work elsewhere Rossini presented L’Inganno Felice at the San Moise in January 1812 and La Scala di Sieta four months later. It is a scintillating piece with bright orchestral colours and distinctive writing for the woodwind. The silken ladder of the title is used nightly by Dorvil to join Giulia whom he has secretly married. She is still living in the house of Dormont, her father, who wishes her to marry Blansac who in turn is loved by Lucilla, Giulia’s cousin. After misunderstandings with her servant Giulia manoeuvres the situations to her satisfaction.

Despite the efforts of Naxos and Opera Rara, there still remain a few gaps in audio recordings of Rossini’s thirty-nine operas. In the first twenty years of the LP the composer’s operatic works in the catalogue could be counted on the fingers of one hand. With the exception of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and a handful of other operas the composer’s works were largely forgotten. Expansion of theatre performances and recordings only really came after the inception of the Pesaro Rossini Festival in the late 1970s and the derivation of properly researched performing editions by the scholars Philip Gossett and Claudio Scimone. How very different the situation is now with many of his opera seria as well as his comedies being performed, particularly in his native Italy. A welcome consequence is the rapid expansion of the Rossini discography on DVD. There are recordings from La Scala, Milan, of La donna del lago (see review) and two of his French Grand Opera (Guillaume Tell see review, and Moďse et Pharaon see review). From Glyndebourne I have welcomed Ermione (see review) and Le Comte Ory (see review). There is also a recording of Maometta Seconda on the way (Dynamic). Of course there have been a clutch of performances of Il Barbiere and La Cenerentola to give the collector/viewer plenty of choice of production and singers. All of those listed are mature works including three of Rossini’s last four compositions. They reflect the increasing importance given to the composer’s works in the live theatre.

Apart from Il Signor Bruschino, the last of the five farse Rossini composed for the Teatro San Moise, and which is regularly performed all round the world, I have to admit to surprise as well as pleasure that such an early work as La Scala di Sieta has joined the growing list of the composer’s works available on DVD. My pleasure is extended further by the sets and costumes of this production. They are such as Rossini himself might recognise. The permanent set is the salon of Giulia. Furnished and curtained with opulence it would be regarded in England as late Georgian and perhaps in Italy as the style of the first ottocento, the time of the composition of the work. The room looks out onto a balcony from which the silken ladder is lowered. Alessandro Corbelli sings the key role of the servant Germano with firm tone, great vocal expression and considerable histrionic skill. His facial expressions in the duets with his mistress, particularly as he thinks he is being propositioned rather than as accomplice, is a pleasure (Chs. 3 and 6). Regrettably Luciana Serra looks rather too old now for the young wife, Giulia. Likewise her voice has lost the flexibility of yesteryear. Nonetheless her acting, expression and diction are plus points and her recit and aria are justifiably applauded (Ch. 14). Serra’s voice contrasts well with the nicely sung Lucilla of Jane Bunnell (Ch. 4) who also shapes her own aria with vocal élan (Ch. 12). The poser Blansac, who in the end is not fussed whichever girl he marries, is elegantly acted by Alberto Rinaldi. He is another considerable singer of yesteryear whose voice has lost some of the bloom of his halcyon days but whose fine diction and suave acting more than compensate. As the visiting husband Dorvil, David Kuebler has a somewhat dry lyric tenor with a touch of edge. He has to reach for the higher notes (Ch. 8) but his voice is flexible. After Germano hides under the table and Lucilla behind the fire screen, the dénouement comes with musical wit and humour in a typical Rossini finale (Ch. 19). All is well that ends well, the lights blow out and the curtain falls.

The orchestral contribution, from the singing strings of the overture (Ch. 2) through the recits and ensembles, is of the highest order with Gianluigi Gelmetti in full flexible control on the podium. A feel for this kind of early work, which does have the odd flat moment, is essential, and the conducting and playing of the orchestra are further plus points on this very enjoyable DVD. The cast on the Brilliant CDs are among the best in the series of five farse. Alessandro Corbelli is outstanding as Germano and Teresa Ringholz is up to the heroine’s task with agility and warm tone. Their duet is Rossini coloratura singing of the highest order and is well matched by the pleasing tone of the young Ramon Vargas, as Giulia’s husband, singing without strain. I commend its purchase and push my luck, and I hope your pleasure, by suggesting purchase of the Brilliant CDs as the perfect complement at much the same price for all five works.

Robert J Farr

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