Director Josh Shaw on Rossini’s La scala di seta

Director Josh Shaw talks about our next opera in the 22|23 season, La scala di seta.


There is nothing that gives me more joy than directing a silly bel canto comedy. And Rossini is the clear master of the genre. The man knew how to write for comedy. From the sparkling overture (which I decided not to stage, so it can simply be enjoyed for the beautiful music it is) to the final ensemble, the score is full of little gems, many of which Rossini used again in later works. 

But I’m just the director, so why am I talking about the music? I think it is because Rossini’s music is in fact the drive behind all my directing decisions. The libretto is simple, to put it kindly, and there is scarcely a joke to be found in the text. But then there is Rossini. He masterfully weaves together instruments, voices, rhythms, dynamics, and more in such a way that fun is inescapable, that comedy is implicit. For me, new inspiration is always just one listen away with Rossini. There is always one more layer to discover, one instrument I never noticed before, one more beat to find, one more bit to time out. 

About this “silk ladder”… Not knowing this opera well, I was surprised to find out the titular item is hardly mentioned in the libretto. And there is certainly no explanation as to why the ladder is made of silk. (Could there be a worse or more expensive fabric for climbing?) For those about to look it up, and I know you are… the title comes from a contemporary French opéra-comique called L’Échelle de soie by François-Antoine-Eugène de Planard with music by Pierre Gaveaux. (There. We can all sleep tonight.) 

But I couldn’t see having the title of the show not be explained, at least in some little way. Thus, I’ve moved the action from a country home in rural Paris to a fine tailoring and fabric shop, circa 1930, where one could conceivably have several extra yards of silk just lying around to make a ladder. Giulia, our ingenue, who is under the guidance of her tutor in all matters matrimonial — because, opera… — works in the shop and lives above in a small apartment. It’s a family affair with her tutor owning the shop and her cousin working there as well. The usual servant, admirer, and secret husband are all there, as expected. 

If you’ve seen any of my work, you know I love my toys, whether they be stools, handkerchiefs, puppets, muskets, swords, or anything else that can be choreographed. A clothing shop, loaded with gadgets, gimmicks, and hiding places galore, seamed a “fitting” location, “tailor made” for my particular brand of bel canto comedy. I hope it leaves you in stitches. (But I still have no explanation for why the damn ladder is made of silk.)

See the production come to life on Sunday, November 13 at the Lobero Theatre. Get tickets today!



L'Elisir d'Amore, March 2016, Photo by David Bazemore