Museum Quality Rossini | Opera | santafenewmexican.com
You’ve probably already heard Gioachino Rossini’s first comedy The silk scale (La Scala di Seta). Well, you almost certainly heard the first six minutes anyway. The overture is one of his most popular pieces for concerts and on compilation CDs. Now, Albuquerque’s enterprising Opera Southwest is giving New Mexicans a chance to see and hear its 90 minutes, with an open-air staging at the Amphitheater at the Albuquerque Museum.
The silk scale premiered at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice in May 1812, just a year before Rossini made the buzz with Tancred and The Italian girl in Algiers. The San Moisè was a small theater specializing in ensemble comedy by emerging composers; Rossini was a precocious 20-year-old who used the place as a laboratory to cultivate his skills, writing five in one act for the company for three years.
They are musically substantial, with particularly impressive sets and extended finals (the one for The silk ladder lasts almost 14 minutes) and pack a lot of comedic action in their 80 or 90 minute periods. Critic Raymond Ericson aptly described the play in The New York Times like “a delight in one act, with a libretto as deliciously ridiculous as a farce by Feydeau and music in the most bubbling style of Rossini”.
The characters may be familiar types (two young lovers, an older man, a nosy servant), but the plot is enlivened by a fun twist. Here the lovers are secretly married (he climbs a silk ladder to his bedroom window every night) and his guardian wants to marry her to an old friend, with the clandestine husband to serve as a witness to the bigamitic marriage.
Anthony Barrese, artistic director of Opera Southwest and conductor of the Rossini, sees advantages in the production in addition to its inherent charms.
“We have an apprenticeship program for singers and, like the San Moisè, we believe in giving young artists a first chance,” says Barrese. “So we do fully staged productions like this one where current and former apprentices play most of the lead roles.
“This piece might be Rossini’s debut, but it has a really dramatic form and most of the characters have an air that showcases their vocal skills, so it works great for us and our apprentices. And the museum’s amphitheater is a beautiful location for an open-air opera, especially as the sun begins to set on a September evening.
The silk ladder is also part of a long-term artistic initiative for the Albuquerque-based company, which is due to produce the bulk of Rossini’s production.
“We’ve done about half of his operas I want to do,” says Barrese, “and we’ve now staged more operas different from him than any company in the country except the Metropolitan Opera. . They made 10 and this will be our ninth.
The company started with the three most famous comedies, The Barber of Seville, Cinderella, and The Italian girl in Algiers, then headed for territory less familiar with Tancred, Turkish in Italy, Guillaume Tell, and Otello. (Yes, Rossini wrote one, as did Giuseppe Verdi.) Two more Rossini operas are in preparation in the following seasons. The silk scale. Hopefully Opera Southwest will beat the Met for the top spot at some point in 2023.
The silk scale will be sung in Italian with English translations available on smartphones through the LiveNote app. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. from Friday September 10 through Sunday September 12 at the Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain Road NW. Tickets, at a cost of $ 35, are available at operasouthwest.org.