LA SCALA DI SETA
Farsa in 1 act
Libretto: Giuseppe Maria Foppa
First performed: Teatro San Moisè, Venice, 9 May 1812
Notes: Rossini’s fifth performed opera.
Reception: Muted. Critics thought the libretto was plagiarised, and the opera vanished after 1825. Resurrected in 1952, it is now frequently performed. (Charles Osborne, Bel Canto Operas)
For the dossier, see here.
- DORMONT, guardian (tenor)
- GIULIA, his ward (soprano)
- LUCILLA, her cousin (mezzo-soprano)
- DORVIL (tenor)
- BLANSAC (bass)
- GERMANE, Dormont’s servant (buffo)
SETTING: Giluia’s room, Paris, 18th century
The opera is adapted from a French farce. Dorvil climbs up the “silken ladder” to meet Giulia, the girl he has secretly married; her guardian wants her to marry the foppish Blansac. A drunken servant misunderstands his mistress’s plans to meet her husband, tells the wrong people to meet her, and, by the end, five characters are hiding in the room – one in a cupboard, another under a table, a third behind the fire grille, and so on.
Synopsis, based on Piotr Kaminski, Mille et un opéras, Fayard, Paris, 2003
Giulia has married Dorvil – with his rich aunt’s support, but against the wishes and without the knowledge of her guardian Dormont. Every night Dorvil climbs up a silken ladder to join her in her room. Their marriage is in danger because Dormont has decided to give Giulia to one Blansac. But Giulia is resourceful; she will make Blansac marry her cousin Lucilla, who loves him. Giulia enlists the help of her half-witted servant Germano. He misreads her intentions, and thinks the mistress is attracted to her servant, but she soon disabuses him. Blansac arrives, accompanied by Dorvil as witness. Blansac wants to show off his skills as a seductor, and Dorvil will let him do so to test his wife’s fidelity. Blansac’s first meeting with Giulia, however, turns into an imbroglio, Dorvil being incapable of controlling his jealousy. On the way to the drawing-room, Blansac bumps into Lucilla, a happy encounter. Germano accidentally hears Giulia’s words about a nocturnal visitor and a silk ladder, and, convinced that she meant Blansac, runs to congratulate her, then tells everything to Lucilla. At midnight, Giulia waits for Dorvil. He climbs the ladder, but must hide, because Blansac is following him. Then it’s Blansac’s turn to hide in the cupboard, because Dormont has discovered the ladder. He discovers lots of people hiding in Giulia’s room: Lucilla come to spy on Blansac, a very embarrassed Blansac, Germano under the table, and, finally, Dorvil who confesses he is Giulia’s husband. His aunt’s letter calms her guardian, who also gives his blessing to Blansac and Lucilla’s marriage.
The scampering overture – the best-known piece from the score – sounds, as someone said, like a “brightly coloured puppy chasing its tail” – and then skidding to a halt.
Rossini himself was a young dog when he composed the opera, barely five years old. (He was born on leap year day, 1792, and the opera was performed in May 1812.)
One can imagine the composer, bright-eyed and inquisitive as a terrier, trotting through his garden, chasing melodic butterflies that perched on flowers, sniffing out interesting harmonies buried under the rose bushes, and gamboling in the sunlight of Italian opera.
He is prodigal in melody with the open-handedness of youth. Here an elegant aria for the soprano, there an aria for the buffo bass as he drinks himself to sleep, yonder an excellent quartet.
Rossini’s music is joyous. It dances merrily, fleet-footed and flirtatious. It twinkles and smiles. Other composers may use music to express the depths of the psyche, the heights of the cosmos, or man’s search for God; music, for Rossini, is an end in itself.
Try the DVD of the 1990 Schwetzingen Festival production, starring David Griffith, Luciana Serra, Jane Bunnell, and David Kuebler, conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti. An excellent naturalistic production, with a talented young cast.
On CD, Marcello Viotti’s 1992 recording, starring Fulvio Massa, Teresa Ringholz, Francesca Provvisionato, and Ramón Vargas. This comes in a box set, Rossini: The Five One-Act Operas, with La cambiale di matrimonio, Il signor Bruschino, L’occasione fa il ladro, and L’inganno felice. A terrific bargain!
Both Scala di seta productions have Alessandro Corbelli, one of the great Rossinian singers, as the buffo servant.