Rossini: La Scala di Seta. © 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd

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Champagne Stuff

GERALD FENECH listens to Rossini's 'La Scala di Seta'

'José-Miguel Pérez-Sierra's vivid conducting draws from both singers and Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra players performances full of delectable charm and infectious pleasure ...'


Gioacchino Rossini was born in Pesaro on 29 February 1792 into a family of musicians. His father Giuseppe was an impoverished trumpet player and an inspector in a slaughterhouse, while his mother Anna was a second string singer. Gioacchino began his musical career in his early childhood, and by the age of six he was already playing the triangle in his father's musical group. When fifteen he entered Bologna's Philharmonic School and composed his first opera seria, Demetrio e Polibio. By this time he also could play a number of instruments and had made some public appearances, earning a small fortune.

In 1799 Rossini's father was sent to prison for one year for supporting the French Revolution. Subsequently, his mother kept the family going by singing for various theatres in Bologna, and that's how the young composer landed in this city, where he could kickstart his glittering career. In Bologna he learned to play the harpsichord and piano and made his first public appearance in 1805, in Paer's Camilla. A year later he was admitted to Padre Stanislao Mattei's class and learned to play the cello with ease.

Aged eighteen, he was ripe to begin his way to stardom. Indeed, from 1810 to 1813 the young Rossini wrote four Italian farse, beginning with La Cambiale di Matrimonio and ending with Il Signor Bruschino. These types of short one-act pieces were popular in Venice at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. The works were intimate, with a cast of five to seven singers, always including a pair of lovers, at least two comic parts and one or two other minor roles. The style called for much visual comedy improvised by the players. As compared to many genres of opera, acting and comedic talent is more important in relation to the required singing ability. Rossini's farces also contain a significant sentimental element.

La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder) is one of these four farces that Rossini wrote between 1810 and 1813. It was composed to a libretto by Giuseppe Foppa, and based on Eugene de Planard's play L'Echelle de Soie. The premiere took place on 9 May 1812 in Venice, and the opera was a huge success.

Listen — Rossini: Sinfonia (La Scala di Seta)
(8.660512-13 CD1 track 1, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The story evolves in Paris during the eighteenth century. Dormont is the teacher and guardian of the beautiful Giulia, and he is determined to marry her with Blansac, in spite of her determined and continual refusals. The fact is that Giulia is already married to Blansac's friend Dorvil, who every night is able to exercise his conjugal rights because Giulia lowers a silken ladder from her bedroom window for him to climb up.

The opera opens in the morning. Owing to the attentions of Giulia's cousin Lucilla and the family servant Germano, Dorvil has great difficulty making his escape by the usual method. Blansac is due to arrive at any minute in his quest to win Giulia's love, but she has devised a scheme to divert his advances towards Lucilla, who would make an excellent wife for him. Lucilla and Blansac are scheduled to meet, a result of Giulia's machinations, and Germano is persuaded to spy on them from a secret hiding place to see how their relationship develops. Blansac arrives with his good friend Dorvil, who desperately tries to persuade him that Giulia is not looking for a husband. Unfortunately, this makes Blansac more determined and more confident of success. He suggests that Dorvil might care to hide and see how successfully he is able to woo Giulia.

As Giulia enters, her meeting with Blansac is being overheard by both Germano and her husband. Giulia decides to test Blansac to see if he would make a good and faithful husband for her cousin. Her questioning deceives all of the men listening into thinking that she is genuinely interested in Blansac. Dorvil emerges from hiding and storms off in fury, much to Germano's surprise, who also shows himself. In the midst of all this confusion and noise, Lucilla enters and Blansac suddenly notices what a fine young woman she is, and decidedly prettier at that from Giulia.

As late evening arrives, Giulia is desperate for Dorvil to arrive so that she can explain the reason for all her questioning Blansac about marriage. Germano is also on hand, and realizes that Giulia is about to meet somebody. He assumes it is Blansac, and decides to hide once more and see what happens. Unfortunately, he is unable to keep his secret to himself and he lets Lucilla know of it. She gets very distressed, as by now she is in love with Blansac, and cannot bear the fact that her man is meeting Giulia. She finds a hiding place in Giulia's bedroom to observe proceedings. There is general amazement and surprise when it is Dorvil who climbs into the bedroom, followed closely by his friend, who is intent on using the silken ladder to further his wooing of Lucilla. Dormont, woken by all the noise, enters in his nightshirt. Seeing that everything has turned out for the best, he forgives the couples and all ends in general rejoicing.

Listen — Rossini: Finir convien la scena (La Scala di Seta)
(8.660512-13 CD2 track 9, 12:36-13:31) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Although Rossini was just twenty when he wrote this little gem of a farsa in musica, he had already mastered the art of opera, whether serious or comic, to the full. Indeed, the music sparkles with wit and humour from start to finish, and the score gives the singers ample opportunities to showcase their vocal abilities to the full. On top of all this, a torrent of sumptuous melodies is woven into an orchestral fabric that brims with ingenious original touches.

Listen — Rossini: Vedrò qual sommo (La Scala di Seta)
(8.660512-13 CD1 track 7, 0:13-1:05) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Someone once said 'chi non ama Rossini non va in paradiso' (He who loves not Rossini will not enter paradise). José-Miguel Pérez-Sierra's vivid conducting draws from both singers and Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra players performances full of delectable charm and infectious pleasure, and the only pity is that the piece lasts for only eighty-eight minutes.

Listen — Rossini: Sì che unito a cara sposa io sarò fedele ognor (La Scala di Seta)
(8.660512-13 CD1 track 9, 7:13-8:55) ℗ 2022 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Champagne stuff from a young Rossini, but boy does it tizzle.

Copyright © 10 July 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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