Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

Born February 29, 1792 in Pesaro, Italy.
Died November 13, 1868 in Paris (Passy), France.

Overture to La Scala di Seta

Composed: 1812.

First Performance: May 9, 1812 at the Teatro San-Mosè.

Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, strings.

Thanks to Bugs Bunny, The Lone Ranger and even Alfalfa, Rossini is almost a household name. In his time he was a successful composer of very popular operas – an Andrew Lloyd Webber, only with talent.

His best known works were Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816), La Cenerentola (1817) and Guillaume Tell (1829).

It is surprising to learn that after the 1829 production of his 39th opera, Guillaume Tell, Rossini at the still youthful age of 37 stopped writing opera. He lived for another 39 years leading the life of a bon vivant and epicure, only occasionally writing non operatic pieces before dying rich, famous and well fed at the age of 76 (his joke was that he was only 19).

Rossini began his career in 1810 with a series of Italian comic farces (farsa comica) which were very popular in Venice at the time. These farse are usually short one act comedies where comedic talent was more important than singing ability.

La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder) was his fifth opera and is perhaps the best known example of the genre.

In the razor thin plot, Giulia (soprano) and Dorvil (tenor) are secretly married against the wishes of Dormont (tenor), her guardian and tutor. Dorvil goes to her every night by climbing up a silken ladder (the scala di seta) that Giulia lowers down from her balcony. Mayhem ensues.

After a brief opening flourish, the overture begins with a slow passage for just the woodwinds where the oboe and flute trade solo passages. Then the strings enter softly with a skittering allegro theme.

Example 1.

The theme is picked up by the woodwinds led by the oboes leading to a suddenly loud theatrical entrance by the strings. The woodwinds then quietly return with a contrastingly lyric second theme. We are then treated to a passage which earned Signor Crescendo his nickname. The second theme returns this time with the string playing a prominent part. The recapitulation begins with the opening allegro theme retuning unmodified. The second theme also returns to lead into the final climax.