[Met Performance] CID:353661
La Fanciulla del West {96} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/06/2010., Sirius and XM Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Hugo Vera, Edward Mout

Metropolitan Opera House
December 6, 2010

Giacomo Puccini-Guelfo Civinini/Carlo Zangarini

Minnie..................Deborah Voigt
Dick Johnson............Marcello Giordani
Jack Rance..............Lucio Gallo
Joe.....................Michael Forest
Handsome*...............Richard Bernstein
Harry...................Adam Laurence Herskowitz
Happy...................David Crawford
Sid.....................Trevor Scheunemann
Sonora..................Dwayne Croft
Trin....................Hugo Vera [Debut]
Jim Larkens.............Edward Parks
Nick....................Tony Stevenson
Jake Wallace............Oren Gradus
Ashby...................Keith Miller
Post Rider..............Edward Mout [Debut]
Castro..................Jeff Mattsey
Billy Jackrabbit........Philip Cokorinos
Wowkle..................Ginger Costa-Jackson

Conductor...............Nicola Luisotti

Production..............Giancarlo Del Monaco
Designer................Michael Scott
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

*In this revival Handsome was listed as Bello

La Fanciulla del West received nine performances this season.

Review of Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times

Puccini's Western, in Search of Lyrical Gold for Its Centennial

Reviving a Century-Old Opera Set on the American Frontier

One hundred years ago this Friday, Puccini's "Fanciulla del West," adapted from David Belasco's play "The Girl of the Golden West" and set in a California camp during the gold rush, had its glittery premiere production at the old Metropolitan Opera. Toscanini was in the pit; Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn and Pasquale Amato sang the leads; and Puccini, alone in his box, surveyed the scene. That is, until the end of Act I, when the composer and cast appeared on stage for
19 curtain calls. Similar pandemonium broke out at the end of the other two acts.

"La Fanciulla del West," last seen at the Met in 1993, returned for its centennial on Monday night in the brushed-up 1991 production by Giancarlo del Monaco. It is an old-fashioned and painstakingly realistic staging that opens in a well-stocked saloon right out of a John Ford western and ends on a dusty street amid ramshackle buildings in the camp and beckoning mountains in the distance. Budget considerations probably affected the Met's decision not to do a new production for the anniversary.

Yet it was also the right artistic call. This opera is still too little known and misunderstood to warrant a reconsidered production by a director with a novel interpretive stance. In spirit, the Met's current staging is close to the original and allows this remarkable score to come through beautifully. For generations
"Fanciulla" has been patronized as an unlikely melodrama, a prototype for the spaghetti western films from Italy, a pulsing spaghetti western plopped into an implausible California setting where miners sing "doo-dah day" refrains when not spouting Italian.

But the piece has won a loyal following, and on this night, thanks in large part to the stylish nuanced and sensitive conducting of Nicola Luisotti, the score emerged as arguably Puccini's most subtly written and boldly modern music. In place of those typical Puccini melodic outbursts that grab you and won't let go, this ingenious score folds refined lyrical strands into a nearly thoroughly composed musical fabric. Every time I wanted a little more urgency from Mr. Luisotti he drew my attention to the textual richness and piercing harmonic complexities of the music.This was a distinguished performance.

The Met has strong stars for this important revival, if not so impossibly
dreamy as those in the original cast. Deborah Voigt, in a role that suits her big, bright voice and hearty character, sings the plucky, gun-toting, good-hcarted saloon owner Minnie a surrogate sister to a roughneck crew of forty-niners who break into fistfights over her attentions. The tenor Marcello Giordani brings his beefy, ardent Italianate voice to the role of Ramirez, alias Dick Johnson, a mysterious bandit and a troubled soul, who sees the sweet. fearless Minnie as his means to redemption.

Though Giordani has the voice of a real Italian tenor, his singing can be wildly uneven. The role of Johnson gives him ample opportunities to luxuriate in tenorial top notes and unleash impassioned phrases. And the solid Italian baritone Lucio Gallo is a coldly menacing Jack Rance, the wily sheriff in the mining camp, who has a wife back home, way across the mountains, close "to another ocean," he explains to Minnie, the golden girl he is determined to conquer.

As always, Ms. Voigt's singing will stir debate within the opera world. Given the competition around right now, I cannot think of a soprano who could sing any better this demanding role, which requires luscious legato phrasing, a powerful top range and stamina. But the Deborah Voigt of almost a decade ago, before her surgery to help shed excess weight, had a richer, warmer, more gleaming sound. For Minnie, she has found a way to soften the sometimes harder edges of her voice and sing with lyrical pliancy while still cutting through the orchestra for big climaxes, including a fearless high C in Act I.

But what wins you over is Ms. Voigt's deep feeling for the character. She looks in her element when she appears in Act I, breaking up a brawl in her bar by shooting three rounds on her rifle. When she falls for the intriguing stranger Dick Johnson, whom she has met before, and thought about often, Minnie opens up poignantly, confessing that she is just a nobody, really trying to do some good while the orchestra swells with undercurrents as harmonically murky and plush-textured as anything in Debussy.

MissVoigt moved me deeply during my favorite passage in the opera, the moment in the love duet when Minnie, thinking about what she has accomplished (after all, she does run a business and is beloved by the campers) confesses to the worldly Johnson that she has had only "30 dollars' worth" of education. Then, in a tender phrase that Ms. Voight sang disarmingly, Minnie says. "If I had had more learning, who knows what might have been?"

Puccini brought two librettists into this project (Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini) and drove them both crazy with his constantly changing demands. But the resulting libretto is effective and often psychologically astute. During the
most intense episode of the opera, in Act II, Minnie plays poker with Jack Rance over the fate of the badly wounded Johnson, As they start to deal Rance, pointing to the unconscious Johnson on the floor of Minnie's cabin, asks, "Why do you love him?"

She replies, "What do you see in me?" The conversation stops. The supporting cast was excellent. with Tony Stevenson as the bartender Nick, Oren Gredus as the minstrel Jake and Ginger Costa-Jackson as the young Indian mother, Wowkle, the only other woman in the cast. The men of the Met chorus sang splendidly, especially during the touching early chorus in which the miners think about wives and families they have left behind to chase dreams of gold in California.

Puccini's one complaint about this revival would probably have been that there were no horses at the end. In Act II, both Ms. Voigt and, later, Mr. Giordani arrived at Minnie's cabin on horseback and dismounted confidently, especially Ms. Voigt. And when Minnie rescues Johnson from hanging and the lovers ride off into the sunset at the opera's end, Puccini wanted them on horseback. (At the premiere there were 10 horses in this climactic crowd scene.) But this horse-less staging of the final moments kept the focus on the lush orchestral writing, with astringent harmonic nuances, and the fine-spun melodic phrases that Ms. Voigt and Mr. Giordani sang as they walked off arm in arn, looking more relaxed than they might have on horseback.

Broadcast live on Sirius and XM Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed at metopera.org

Production photos of La Fanciulla del West by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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