Scottish Opera has been running an Opera in Concert series where less well known operas are given a single performance as a Sunday Matinee, the orchestra and soloists on the stage of Theatre Royal in a purpose built acoustic shell. Rossini’s La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) received an additional performance in Perth Concert Hall with Rossini expert David Parry conducting and playing the fortepiano recitatives. Although the overture is well known, this farsa comica written in Rossini’s late teens is something of a rarity promising much light amusement.

David Parry © Rayfield Allied
David Parry
© Rayfield Allied

Parry explained to the audience that the opera plunges headlong straight into the drama, so helpfully asked to have the cast to come on stage and introduce themselves. In a frothy mix, Dormont is the beautiful Giulia’s tutor and has arranged for her to marry the roguish Blansac, but Giulia is already secretly married to Dorvil who climbs up a silken ladder to his wife’s bedchamber once the household is asleep each night. A simple servant, Germano, becomes a hapless go between and a ditsy cousin Lucilla adds to the nonsensical complications. A couple of lattice screens and an impressively distressed armchair provided just enough scenery for the characters to hide from each other, as four of them have to do near the end, a silk evening scarf a representational ladder.

Parry took the overture at a smart lick with generous sparkle from the strings and lively woodwind, a virtuoso performance from the oboe. Packed with infectious rhythm, bright melody and the trademark Rossini crescendos, it is easy to see why this has become a standalone piece.

Sung in Italian, this concert performance was brought vividly to life through deft ensemble work from the cast. Jennifer France, a former Emerging Artist returning to Scottish Opera, was the star turn as Giulia, using her bright coloratura to maximum effect as she flirted and rebuffed the men, scheming with Nicholas Lester’s deeply warm-toned and ever-perplexed baritone Germano, the opera’s other central character in a splendidly entertaining double act. France’s central reflective aria “Il mio ben sospiro e chiamo” stopped the comedy for a few moments with its beautiful cor anglais solo. In a busy role, tenor Luciano Botelho’s Dorvil was sung with a light touch although stretching a little for some top notes. Joshua Bloom, introducing his character Blansac at the start as a "serial shagger", had a huge bass voice and Christopher Turner as Giulia’s guardian was a solid support. Katie Bray brought her warm mezzo to Lucilla’s aria “Sento talor nell anima”. A quartet with everyone at maximum confusion was a trademark Rossini highlight.

The orchestra, taking a night away in between Edinburgh performances of Bluebeard, was on top form, clearly enjoying the Italian sunshine in this sprightly score, Parry’s attention to the detail of dynamics and accents adding effervescent colour to the general merriment. Perth Concert Hall has a generous orchestral acoustic, and singers, particularly sopranos have to work hard to be heard in front of an enthusiastic band. Generally balance was good although occasionally the players got the upper hand.

La scala di seta may not be The Barber of Seville, but there are plenty of tricky moments to negotiate and many similarities of form, not least the challenge of keeping orchestra and singers together in the fast paced patter passages. This was achieved despite the singers being well  in front of the conductor and so relying on a large relay screen at the back of the hall. As the sextet turned to face the audience in an all’s well happy ending, this was a very enjoyable evening, the more so for getting to see the Scottish Opera orchestra on stage in such splendid form.