La Scala di Seta
Peretyatko, Malavasi; Zapata, Zanfardino, Lepore, Bordogna; Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento, Scimone. Production: Michieletto. Opus Arte OA 1075 D, 105 mins. (opera), 22 mins. (bonus), subtitled
Before Figaro and Almaviva plotted Rosina's escape from her overbearing guardian, Bartolo, using a ladder in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, the same contraption had proved crucial to another effervescent Rossini comedy, La Scala di Seta (1812). The composer's one-act farsa comica finds Giulia, the heroine, creating the "silken ladder" of the title in order to lower it at night for her beloved Dorvil to climb up to her bedroom. Dormont — the opera's Bartolo figure — hopes to pair her up with the debonair Blansac. There's much intrigue, further complicated by a bumbling servant and Giulia's man-hungry cousin Lucilla, before the inevitable happy ending.
Produced at the 2009 Rossini Opera Festival, La Scala di Seta gets a contemporary updating from director Damiano Michieletto and designer Paolo Fantin, who present Dormont's home within a refreshingly open set that lacks walls or functioning doors. Individual rooms are indicated with writing on the floor — "Pranzo," "Bagno," etc. — and are defined by various set-pieces brought on during the overture, among them a chaise longue, washer/dryer, oven and various IKEA-ish tables and chairs.
The set allows Michieletto's blocking to proceed with admirable fluidity. The still-inexperienced Rossini, who was just twenty at the time of the premiere, draws out certain episodes to excessive length; the director responds with all manner of stage business in an attempt to maintain visual interest. The constant activity, however, often seems merely busy rather than genuinely characterful. Blansac's cavatina, for example, finds him peeling off his socks, sticking his feet in a bidet and sprinkling them with powder before arranging a bouquet in a convenient vase during the cabaletta.
The show is stolen handily by Olga Peretyatko's Giulia. This young Russian leggero soprano is a real star — luscious in voice and figure, persuasive in her bel canto style, equally agile vocally and physically. Her portrayal exudes a natural exuberance and maximum adorability. No one else is quite in that league, although Carlo Lepore (Blansac) comes close. His tone has its moments of dryness, but he displays a notably wide range and fine textual projection, while portraying a man of the world with fine theatrical flair.
Tenor José Manuel Zapata is a sort of roly-poly teddy bear of a Dorvil. He offers acceptable coloratura, but his voice — not quite suave enough in legato passages — thins out worryingly at the top. Vocally undistinguished in their roles are tenor Daniele Zanfardino, as Dormont, and mezzo Anna Malavasi, as Lucilla (though she does provide some mirth when working her wiles on Blansac). Saddled with a singularly unfortunate wig reminiscent of Moe in The Three Stooges, baritone Paolo Bordogna makes a suitably slow-witted servant.
The orchestra, under Claudio Scimone, provides the essential verve and virtuosity; if only the recitative accompanist weren't so maddeningly hyperactive! The video direction occasionally utilizes trick photography by placing characters in their own little quadrants onscreen — an effective if somewhat overused device. Opus Arte's excellent recorded sound really has the whiff of Pesaro's theater about it.
The elegance of Michael Hampe's 1990 Schwetzingen production (EuroArts 2054978), with vocalism superior to Pesaro's in nearly every role, gives it the edge. If you prefer your Rossini comedies updated, sample this new release, especially for its dazzling leading lady.
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