Brilliant comic opera hits all the right notes

Rossini Opera Festival brought their hilarious 2009 production of Rossini’s 1812 one-act opera buffa, ‘La Scala di Seta’ (the Silken Ladder) to the Royal Opera House Muscat for two performances only at the weekend – and what a production it was! Brain-child of Venetian Set and Costume designer, 38-year-old Scenographer, Paolo Fantin, the stage featured a full-sized mirror as backdrop with contemporary set and costumes. With his collaborator since 2004, 44-year-old Director, Damiano Michieletto’s production excelled in innovative antics, unbelievable gymnastics and hilarious buffoonery which – in its contemporary setting complete with smartphone headsets and flat-screen TV – worked splendidly. The ‘farsa comica’ was a six-hander with no chorus, but a magnificent orchestra in the pit. ‘Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini’, was conducted by the superb Mexican pianist and gifted countertenor, Maestro Iván López-Reynoso.
The opening of the show was clever and innovative; during the lengthy overture featuring some fine solos in the challenging score by Principal oboist, Lorenzo Luciani, six “stagehands” as house-movers set up the apartment’s furniture from scratch, with toilet and shower in the bathroom, huge double bed with pillows in the bedroom, kitchen unit and cupboards – all reflected at 90 degrees in the huge mirror behind. Principals were amazingly brought on stage on removal wheels and deposited in place. Dressed in a pink track-suit, the lithe Spanish soprano, Marina Monzó, was delightfully persuasive in the role of Prima Donna, Giulia. During the eighty-minute performance she was almost continually on stage, singing in various positions: on the couch, the bed, the kitchen counter and putting her hair into a ponytail before doing impressive yoga exercises in her bedroom.
Opposite her was the ever-present, silly yet faithful house-boy, Germano, now reinvented as a sort of Chinese Cato character by the brilliantly expansive bass-baritone, Paolo Bordogna. Together they set a scene of domestic bliss, making espresso and squeezing oranges as they sang the opening, ‘Lo So ch’hai Cuore’. His acting skills are legendary and yet his singing throughout the show did not waver for a moment, even while hanging upside-down under the kitchen table!
The youthful exuberance of the whole production was palpable in every detail of the animated direction. Giulia’s husband, Dorvil, is a challenging role for its demanding high tenor range and jealous nature, yet dressed as a biker with considerable ladder-climbing skills, the young Sicilian Pietro Adaini cut a convincing figure.
His lyrical, decorated bel canto in the heart-warming, ‘Vedrò Qual Sommo Incanto’ was superb if a little strained at times, all the more for his concentration on the music while opening cupboards to pour a glass of coke. The flamboyant suitor, Blansac, was played with panache and style by Davide Giangregorio, cajoling Giulia who tried her best to avoid his advances.
He posed little threat to his friend, Dorvil, who variously hid in cupboards and under the bed in true farce predictability. To add to the confusion and love-interest came Giulia’s prim, bespectacled cousin, Lucilla, played confidently by 29-year-old mezzo-soprano, Laura Verrecchia. An iconic moment of Shakespearean drama came when she ripped her spectacles off, untied her hair and threw her head into a hard-rock spin to attract the unattached Blansac with her seductive charms, a moment of pure genius. The Finale of Part One was a hilarious Quartet of slapstick pastiche, with Dorvil, Blansac and Giulia venting their wrath on the tactless Germano in a brilliantly synchronised piece of dancing-with-saucepans.
The recitative passages of the plot were accompanied from the pit harpsichord by Rossini Opera Festival’s pianist extraordinaire and repetiteur, Vincenzo Scalera with almost 20th-century flourishes and commentary. The patter-songs, or ‘sillibato’, were ferociously fast and hard to sing, mostly by Paolo Bordogna as Germano while ironing the linen, watching TV or sewing, and following the subtitles sometimes distracted from the action. But Germano had his moment of pathos in the moving aria, ‘Amore Dolcemente’, and the range from low bass, and quality of emotion achieved was a tribute to his versatility and talent.
Giulia’s Aria, ‘Il mio Ben Sospiro e Chiamo’ with its bel canto coloratura cadenza was beautifully executed from the couch to the bed at some very odd angles, reaching an impressively high climax. A sudden black-out led to some comic revelations from the five now hiding characters, bumping and slapping each other in the dark.
Giulia’s guardian, the elderly Dormant played by the experienced Italian Tenor, Enrico Iviglia discovered the Silken Ladder – and the devious goings-on – and is forced to accept the status quo in a deliciously lampooned Sextet under a Silken Wedding canopy and declare that ‘Love Will Win’ in the end.
This was a splendid catch for the ROHM establishment and one hopes that more Comedia del Arte productions will grace the stage next season. To prolong the evening and allow more social interaction, it could have been split into two acts with a coffee interval in between. But even in one long act, this was one of the most enjoyable ROHM presentations and audiences on both nights left the auditorium in high spirits, knowing that Opera Buffa really is for everyone.

STORY By GEoRGINA BENISON
PHOTOS BY KHALID AL BUSAIDI