La scala di seta, Royal Opera Young Artists, ROH Linbury Studio, October 2014Posted on 24 October 2014
First produced in Venice when Rossini was just 20, this comic farce is a little gem. Its quality is sometimes called into question by a story that the impresario who commissioned it served the young composer with a poor libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa to which Rossini responded with slapdash music. Whatever the truth of this, the opera has great charm and the music is a delight.
The story itself was used by other composers such as Cimarosa for his Il matrimonio segreto, and is ultimately based on a 1766 play, The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman and David Garrick, albeit in a sentimentalised form. In the opera, Giulia is secretly married to Dorvil who visits her by scaling the silken ladder (la scala di seta) she hangs from her balcony. Her tutor and guardian Dormont intends that she marry Blansac, who fancies himself with the ladies but wishes to settle down. The trick is to pair off Blansac with Giulia’s cousin Lucilla, but confusion reigns when the house servant Germano gets the wrong end of the stick, more than once, and complicates matters while trying to help.
There was fine sparkle to the well-known overture under the baton of Jonathan Santagada with the Southbank Sinfonia, who produced lively playing throughout. The overture also marked the start of the action with various comings and goings centred on an elaborate bed along with a rope of tied silks, and Holly Pigott’s gloriously colourful designs gave an excellent focus to the story, where the confusions and misunderstandings all seemed perfectly natural under Greg Eldridge’s inventive direction.
Fine singing all round with Lauren Fagan as a very pretty and lively Giulia, whose Act II aria Il mio ben sospiro showed excellent colouring. This is after Anush Hovhannisyan as Lucilla had already given us a delightful Sento talor nell’anima, and although there are few arias in this rapid back and forth between the characters, Luis Gomez delivered a lovely Vedro qual sommo incanto in Act I. As Blansac, the assertive new lover, James Platt was huge fun with his white face, red cheeks and firm bass voice, and he, Dorvil and Giulia gave a fine ending to Act I while having a go at the helpful but dim servant Germano, well sung by Yuriy Yurchuk with excellent tone though occasional pitch problems. In the end the excellent stage presence and superb singing of Samuel Dale Johnson as Dormont the tutor brings the confusion to a happy conclusion, and the final sextet was terrific.
Two further performances follow, on Friday, 24 October during this special Young Artists Week — for details click here.