Rossini was only 18 years old when he composed La scala di seta. However, given that he had written 10 operas by the time he was 21, he was clearly a childhood prodigy, and of course he retired from writing operas at the ripe old age of 36, having become probably the most successful opera composer of his time.
Scottish Opera have developed a tradition of presenting concert performances of operas on a Sunday afternoon, and this is a very good idea. Firstly, it enables them to do lesser-known works in a less expensive format; and secondly, Sunday afternoon is a great time to go to the opera, as one is more likely to be fresh and awake!
There is an element of staging in this concert performance: an armchair, a couple of Garden screens, and the silken ladder of the title—a scarf. These, plus the acting talents of the singers, are enough to convey the simple nature of a plot that is typical of opera: romance, intrigue and confusion, all ending happily.
What isn’t stinted on here is the quality of the music or the singers. Scottish Opera Orchestra seems in a very good state these days, with their new music director Stuart Stratford still basking in praise for Scottish Opera’s recent production of Pelléas et Mélisande. Stratford introduces the conductor for the day, veteran Rossini specialist David Parry, and gives some fun introductions to the cast.
And what a cast it is too: six singers, and not a weak link among them. Outstanding performances come from young Australian bass, Joshua Bloom, singing the role of the philandering Blansac; tenor, Luciano Botelho, who sings Dorvil; and Jennifer France, who sings the main female role, Giulia. They are ably backed up by Katie Bray (Lucilla), Nicholas Lester (Germano) and Christopher Turner (Dormont).
Parry’s baton holds the whole thing together, and especially given that it was produced after only 3 days of rehearsal, it is a triumph. So let’s have more Sunday afternoon concert performances (indeed, the Edinburgh Festival is putting on several concert performances of operas this year)! As this afternoon’s performance demonstrates, often a good concert performance is better than a badly staged production.