Rossini’s “La Scala di Seta”: meet the players

June 8, 2009

LaScala FB sized posterMy Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

I have been a repetiteur for many productions, from Operas to Musicals to Cabarets. But I have enjoyed few of them as much as this production conducted by Alex Fokkens and directed by Lara Bye.  The story is delightfully funny and charming. A young couple are in love and already secretly married, and this becomes the engine that drives the farce. I think it is a real “Closet-Opera”: there is always at least one closet on the stage, with always at least one person hiding in it, about to hide in it, or who has just come out from hiding in it. It is a lovely excuse for some comic bussiness and delightful Bel Canto music with exhilirating runs, high notes, cadenzas and furious finales. The work itself is a pleasure, Rossini’s 5th opera, the work of a twenty year old. Musch of the mature Rossinian genius is already to be found. Team leaders Alexander Fokkens and Lara Bye created a production bubbling with life, humour and energy.

Conductor Alexander Fokkens

Conductor Alexander Fokkens

Alex Fokkens uses a light touch on the score. The orchestration had to be reduced for this production and the Cape Town Camerata certainly has their work cut out for them. Alex understands voices well and it is evident that he has studied singing himself. The skill he brings to conducting Rossini is the ability to keep things “light and frothy” but not “frothy and frivolous”. He has a way of insisitng on what he wants, musically, while keeping the mood positive and creative. His experience as an opera conducor certainly pays off in the devellish ensembles as much as in the slow arias, where a misjudgment of tempo could be fatal. I appreciated all his discussions with the cast about expressive detail. The atmosphere of exploration and discovery was one to treasure.

Director Lara Bye

Director Lara Bye

Lara Bye is so refreshing to work with. Willing to think “outside the box”, she rethinks operatic conventions and came up with a classic comedy that has a very contemporary feel to it. Her eye for comic timing is excellent and she has the ability to keep everybody focussed on what she is trying to communcate to an audience, while keeping the mood light enough for all the cast members to feel relaxed enough to make their own contributions. I felt asif I was watching a growth process in which the joy and fun of Rossini’s opera revealed itself in stages, a series of discoveries. Multimedia elements, animations and projections by Jon Keevy adds to the comedy and freshness of the production. The off-beat production had audiences of all ages laughing and giggling at its first public outing in February. Packed houses enjoying an afternoon of Opera? How delightful!

I very much enjoyed working with the cast. The two Baritones Aubrey Lodewyk and Conroy Scott both have very striking stage-personalities and the voices to match.

Baritone Aubrey Lodewyk

Baritone Aubrey Lodewyk

Aubrey plays the likeable servant Germont, who’s only real charachter-flaws are his fondness for the lovely “lady of the manor”, Giulia, and the bottle. He creates much confusion by falling asleep at the wrong time in the wrong place and getting messages mixed up.  In particular, Aubrey’s aria is one of the trickiest obstacle-courses a Baritone could tackle. While no-one ever doubted that he would master the role, I remember the first run-through at the piano. Page upon page upon page of tremendously taxing music lay before us. My eyes popped open. His eyes popped open. The rest of the cast’s eyes popped open. So many notes! Such a long aria! And such leaps from high to low. As we turned the page for the second verse of the fast cabaletta Aubrey took a deep breath and said – mid-cadenza – “Coffee Break!”

Conroy Scott – who also plays the Double Bass professionally – is given the role of Blanzac, whose overconfidence and fall from grace, is plotted and portrayed with excellent comic timing. I enjoyed his awareness of what the basses would be playing at any given moment in the opera. Even in this early Rossini opera, the trademark harmonic drive is evident, and Conroy’s orchestral experience creates a sense of being very aware of and in tune with whatever is happening in the orchestra pit. There’s a sense of youth, energy and enjoyment about being in rehearsal with Conroy that I enjoyed.

Conroy Scott and Zanne Stapelberg: Die Burger Gala Concert Feb. 2009

Conroy Scott and Zanne Stapelberg: Die Burger Gala Concert Feb. 2009

Magdalene Minnaar "La Scala di Seta" 2009

Magdalene Minnaar "La Scala di Seta" 2009

Magdalene Minnaar has a wonderfully expressive colloratura. Working with her on runs and cadenzas is truly fun. She has an excellent ear and faultless intonation – from many years of music lessons and performing also as a violinist, no doubt. And if one suggests just one more high note, or one more tricky little hairpin bend on some ridiculously high note, she is not only willing to try it, but can actually pull it off! I really enjoy her willingness to find a dramtic reason for a cadenza, and to let the music guide the movements to go with the notes. She will be fitting in this production on her way to New York for Masterclasses.

Elizabeth Frandsen

Elizabeth Frandsen

Elizabeth Frandzen sings the role of Lucilla with the perfect mixture of comedy, irony, and a touch of the “Adams Family”. Her popping in and out of the closet is one of the highlights of the evening, and her seduction of Blanzac is delightfully funny. Her powerful mezzo can be brandished like a sword to subdue a cocky baritone, or like a ticklish little feather to seduce the man of her dreams. Her aria is one of the highlights of the show and it is very hard to leave the reharsal room without whistling her perky little tune.

For the present revival only one cast-change was made: Sunnyboy Dladla will now be singing the role of Dorvill, the romantic hero. His comic flair is remarkable and his lyric tenor is ideal for the florid writing. Dorvil is a sweet mixture of the desperately tragic hero and the sweet innocence of the young lover.
Sunnyboy Dladla in Verona, Italy 2009

Sunnyboy Dladla in Verona, Italy 2009

Jacques Louw

Jacques Louw

Jacques Louw sings the tutor Dormont. A character role, he tends to pop up at inconvenient times and in even more inconvenient places.

The project is presented under the auspices of the South African Wagner Society and coordinated by Music Maestro’s

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