Rossini : La Scala di seta, Venecia, 2002 (Video)
Director: Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
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Rossini's La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder), a "farsa comica" in one act, features a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa (1760-1845), whose specialty was comedy.
Foppa derived his libretto from François-Antoine-Eugene de Planard's libretto for Pierre Gaveaux's L'échelle de soie, of 1808.
One of five comic operas Rossini composed in 1812, and his third for the Teatro San Moisè, it enjoyed little success outside Italy; only the overture has remained popular. La scala di seta premiered in Venice at the Teatro San Moisè on May 9, 1812. It was not published until 1852. Although it is a gem of comic pacing, it generally has been overlooked in studies of Rossini's works.
Foppa's text for La scala di seta is like his other librettos in that it draws on the stock stories and characters of the eighteenth century and exhibits the influence of Goldoni's works. Foppa borrowed freely from the repertory of jokes and devices of the commedia dell'arte and transferred these to comic opera. Foppa was aware of what was being staged outside of Italy, in part because he worked for a year in Lisbon and his awareness of da Ponte's libretto for Mozart's Così fan tutte is apparent in the scene from La scala di seta in which Dorvil allows a test of his wife's fidelity.
The story of La scala di seta is pure farce: Giulia, living in the home of her guardian, Dormont, is secretly married to Dorvil. Every evening, Giulia lowers a silken ladder from her balcony so Dorvil may climb up and join her. The problem is, Dormont wants Giulia to marry his friend Blansac, an army officer. Giulia attempts to get out of her predicament by encouraging Blansac to fall in love with her cousin, Lucilla. Miscommunications and misunderstandings abound as characters fall into and out of closets until Dormont discovers the silken ladder and demands an explanation. In the end, Dormont blesses Giulia's marriage to Dorvil and Blansac marries Lucilla. Nothing about the characters or plot presents anything new or unusual.
Rossini's score for La scala di seta is memorable mainly for the youthful ebullience typical of his early works. The simple harmonic structure of the sonata-form overture, coupled with its clear melodies and brilliant writing for the winds, has contributed to its enduring appeal. Rossini's ever-increasing rhythm propels both the overture and the drama itself. He maintains his pace by employing as much accompanied recitative as simple ("secco"), and by writing more ensembles than arias. The most prominent character is, not surprisingly, Giulia, a soprano role that participates in most of the ensembles and has a substantial recitative and aria, "Il mio ben sospiro e chiamo" (I sigh for and call for my beloved), which is colored by the English horn. What is surprising is that next largest role is that of the servant, Germano (bass), whose aria, "Amore dolcemente," is particularly charming. Dorvil also has an aria, "Vedrò qual sommo incanto" (I'll see as if by magic), but sings in little else. All the other characters are clearly supporting roles; Blansac and Dormont sing only in ensembles. However, Lucilla's "Sento talor nell'anima" (Sometimes I feel within my soul) is arguably the opera's best number, its contrasting minor-mode passages lending it a serious air.
Roberto Rizzi Brignoli