Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Rossini is my favorite opera composer, possibly because the first live opera I saw, at age 12 or 13, was his Semiramide, then still obscure, Today it is much less so. I have never encountered one of his operas that I didn't like on some level. I was previously familiar with the five one-acts via a recording. As the work of a very young man (he was 20 when The Silken Ladder was written), they are hit and miss. This one has a sensational overture which had the audience I shared the performance with cheering for several minutes before Maestro DeRenzi could proceed, a couple of nifty ensemble numbers, a lovely tenor aria, and a finale that looks forward to what the composer would be best known for, orchestral crescendos.
During the years I have been an avid Rossinian, singers specializing in the repertoire have appeared. There was one wave around the 1970s and well into the 1980s, and today we have three superstar tenors (Juan Diego Flórez, Lawrence Brownlee and Javier Camarena) who excel in bel canto (Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini). These men are inspiring more productions and recordings, as well as more singers in various voice categories to match their virtuosity. All this is having a trickle down effect. While none of Sarasota Opera's six singers are first class Rossini stylists, their exposure to the explosion of this repertoire has produced niceties that 10-15 years ago might not have been there.
Leading the cast as Giulia is Maestro DeRenzi's favorite light lyric soprano, partly because she has a beautiful voice and lovely stage deportment and because she is locally based. She is not ideal casting, more right for lyric coloratura roles such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, which she sang two years ago, than for more central coloratura roles like Olympia in Tales of Hoffman or Lucia di Lammermoor. Maybe I'm being a bit picky, because her acting of this role is pert and kewpie doll adorable, just what the story calls for. Her tenor, as he was for the other two last spring, is Christopher Bozeka as Dorvil. In the story, he is already married to her. He definitely has the makings of a very good Rossini tenor, able to handle all the florid writing and he cuts a handsome figure on stage, a fine leading man.
Alexander Boyd is Blansac. Giulia's guardian wants to marry her off to him, but see above. Boyd expertly handles the Rossini baritone patter with some poise and, as an actor, he is excellent. I have seen him in more core baritone repertory and this singer is very versatile. He ends up with Maria Miller as Lucilla, Giulia's cousin. Lucilla is a lesser role, mainly consisting of an arietta, but Miller knocks it right out of the ballpark. Sean Anderson is the servant Germano who meddles in everyone's romantic affairs. Having seen him as Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, which does not require anywhere as much florid singing, I was very pleased at how well he handled this role. The last role, Giulia and Lucilla's guardian Dormont, is sung by Samuel Schlievert. The role exists for plot purposes and to fill out the final ensemble, but has no major moments.
Maestro Victor DeRenzi conducts with a steady hand. Members of the Sarasota Orchestra who have their own busy schedule at this time, play brilliantly for him, especially the woodwinds. There is a lot of very exposed upper woodwind writing, piccolos, flutes and oboes, and all that witty writing is luscious on the ear.
Director Stephanie Sundine gets far better than average opera stage acting from her singers and, with assistance from the surtitles, makes the story understandable.
Howard Tsvi Kaplan has clothed everyone in proper period attire. The lovely setting is uncredited. Lighting design by Ken Yunker is bright and sunny as an Italian morning. Hair and makeup design, including wig design, is credited to Kellen Eason, doing excellent period work.
I never expected to hear any of Rossini's one-act operas unless I unexpectedly ran into one at an opera training program. I might have expected that that performance would be accompanied by piano only and with student artists. I will always be grateful to Sarasota Opera for their presentations.
The Silken Ladder (La scala di seta) runs through November 13, 2021, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.
Cast: Dormont: Samuel Schlievert