Giacomo Puccini’s Opera about “The Girl of the West”

A scene from Act I of Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" (The Girl of the Golden West) with Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson and Deborah Voigt as Minnie (dancing) and Lucio Gallo (seated) as Jack Rance. Taken during the rehearsal on December 3, 2010 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
A scene from Act I of Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" (The Girl of the Golden West) with Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson and Deborah Voigt as Minnie (dancing) and Lucio Gallo (seated) as Jack Rance. Taken during the rehearsal on December 3, 2010 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (“The Girl of the West”) was seen around the world, live from the stage in New York in High Definition last Saturday.

Deborah Voigt starred as Minnie, the saloon keeper (sister figure and beloved of the gold miners) with Marcello Giordani as Johnson, Lucio Gallo as Sheriff Rance and Dwayne Croft luxuriously cast as Sonora. (The two baritones should have switched roles.) Tony Stephenson was the bartender Nick. Nicola Luisotti conducted.

What about La Fanciulla del West?

Where does it fit in Puccini’s output?

We know it was written for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and premiered there on December 10, 1910. People expecting the lush melodic flow of La boheme or Madama Butterfly were probably confused by the spectacle of gold rush era cowboys in California greeting each other in Italian,  and a heroine and hero referred to as Meeeneee and Deek. Clearly, Puccini was moving in a new direction.

La Fanciulla del West gave the story to the orchestra. Certainly, there are great vocal moments: My first favorite is Minnie’s song to her happy childhood in the California wilds, Laggiu nel Soledad

The late Carla Gavazzi is a sentimental favorite of mine from my childhood. She had the darkness and “morbidezza” in the voice so crucial to this music.

And then there’s our tenor, Dick Johnson (aka Ramerrez), who, just before being hanged, has time for a hit aria.

Deborah Voigt’s voice

The online opera lists were click, click, clacking for weeks that Voigt had lost her voice and was in no shape to sing Minnie. She sounded lovely.

The sweetness and girlishness she brought to the music suited the character very well. If the tone has narrowed, she nonetheless offered a fully connected performance.

Giordano is the Metropolitan Opera’s resident Italian tenor, with the necessary squillo to pull of Johnson. He and Voigt made a nice pair, in and out of the clench.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQC598bVDJk

I hope this HD presentation wins new fans for Puccini’s most sophisticated opera. Ironic isn’t, that an opera filled with rough edged miners and a gun toting soprano gives way to a score that shows that Puccini had been paying attention to Debussy and Stravinsky, not to mention Prokofiev.

What he could always do, and what those other worthies sometimes did, was soar. His characterizations took flight in glistening and exciting vocal lines, now matched by the orchestra that no longer doubles the singer with melodic paste, but tells the story and predicts what happens next.

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