La Scala di Seta Overture
flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, strings
notes by James Keays
Composed 1812. First performance: Teatro San Moisè, Venice, 9 May 1812.
In the history of Italian music few composers’ careers shone as quickly and brightly as did Gioaccino Rossini’s. From humble beginnings as the son of the municipal trumpeter and singer, Rossini developed his musical gifts as a boy soprano in church choirs and harpsichordist in the theater orchestras. By the age of fourteen, he had been accepted into Bologna’s musical academy, the Liceo Musicale. In the following ten years, he composed nearly twenty operas. Eighteen more were written before Rossini abruptly decided to retire as a composer of opera in 1829. He lived most of the remaining thirty-nine years of his life in Paris, at the center of the city’s artistic and intellectual life.
Rossini was never one to linger over an opera project or to devote time to details. Some of his works were tossed off in a mere two weeks or less and many made use of material recycled from earlier compositions, as well as the works of others. Some, such as The Barber of Seville, can be favorably compared to the comic works of Mozart. Others, such as Tancredi and Serriamide, enjoyed a measure of success but were soon forgotten. At the peak of his career, Rossini was able to achieve success on the French stage with the grand operas The Siege of Corinth and William Tell. It was probably unwillingness on Rossini’s part to adapt to the changing styles of the time, and thus compete with the all-powerful Meyerbeer, that led to his decision to retire from operatic composition.
The opera La Scala de Seta _(The Silken Ladder_) was one of Rossini’s first commercial successes, having been composed just two years after ending his compositional studies. It was his sixth opera – a one-act comedy to a libretto by the poet Giuseppe Foppa which, in turn, was based on a French play. The silken ladder of the title is used by the tenor, Dorvil, to rejoin his wife, Giulia, the soprano, to whom he is secretly wed and who is living at the home of her tutor. Unbeknownst to either, the tutor has promised the hand of Giulia to a friend, who is actually in love with Giulia’s cousin. The first performance took place in Venice on May 9, 1812; the second in Rome on April 26, 1954. The opera may have languished over the centuries, but not the overture. It remains one of Rossini’s most sparkling creations – a tour de force for the upper woodwinds and strings.