If an opera company season can be viewed in sequential narrative terms, when we last visited Opera Santa Barbara (OSB), the encounter ended with a real cliff-jumper. A tortured Tosca leaps off a parapet/scaffolding to her death. Curtain falls, in more ways than one. That was then; that was Puccini. Last Sunday’s second installment of the OSB season, at the Lobero Theatre, radically turned the emotional tables, with a giddy Rossini romp of a comic opera.
In La Scala di Seta (The Silk Ladder), our heroine, Giulia (the radiant Santa Barbara–bred Jana McIntyre, in magnificent voice and sharply comic-timed form), is a young love-finagling schemer rather than a tortured soul. She first appears on the upstairs landing of the shop set, by the window that is the site of the fateful “silk ladder” upon which lovers (one intended, one not) will hoist themselves.
The one-act, one-location comic opera is built around a bizarrely complex plot, which may be best unraveled as we sink into the rich atmosphere of the musical element and a livewire production. Singing and acting were ideally pitched to the farcical challenges at hand, especially from suitors Christian Sanders and Matthew Peterson, jester figure Efrain Solís, and beauty-in-disguise Christina Pezzarossi.
Stage director Josh Shaw, who showed his skilled hand in Rossini-land in OSB’s Barber of Seville, has gamely reset the 1812-vintage opera in a Parisian fabric and tailor shop circa the 1930s, giving costume designer Stacie Logue room to concoct apt attire and bask in a fabric-friendly ambience.
As if emboldened by the giddy abandon of Rossini’s invention, the production takes other post-modern liberties with the 19th-century opera. In a dizzy passage midway through, Helena Kuukka’s lighting design abruptly shifted into moodier mode and the cast broke into an uncharacteristic dance step. Toward the end, a winking reference to a character named “Rat Pack” cues the brief appearance of a fedora as pianist Tim Accurso snuck in a twisted refrain from “Fly Me to the Moon.” Not sure if Rossini would give his blessing there.
In short, La Scala di Seta, expertly presented by the OSB forces, emerged as a plot-tangled frivolity wrapped in elegant musical garb, the sure Rossinian touch of which we get from the overture (orchestra led by conductor Alexandra Enyart) through to the presumably happy ending. We left the theater thinking “What just happened?” while also feeling abuzz after the frenzied comic energy and the polished operatic experience.