[Met Performance] CID:49290
World Premiere

In the presence of the composer
La Fanciulla del West {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/10/1910.
 (World Premiere)
(Debuts: Lamberto Belleri, David Belasco, Edward Siedle, Frederick G. Gaus
Reviews)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 10, 1910

World Premiere
In the presence of the composer

LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST {1}
Puccini-Civinini/Zangarini

Minnie..................Emmy Destinn
Dick Johnson............Enrico Caruso
Jack Rance..............Pasquale Amato
Joe.....................Glenn Hall
Handsome................Vincenzo Reschiglian
Harry...................Pietro Audisio
Happy...................Antonio Pini-Corsi
Sid.....................Giulio Rossi
Sonora..................Dinh Gilly
Trin....................Angelo Badà
Jim Larkens.............Bernard Bégué
Nick....................Albert Reiss
Jake Wallace............Andrés De Segurola
Ashby...................Adamo Didur
Post Rider..............Lamberto Belleri [Debut]
Castro..................Edoardo Missiano
Billy Jackrabbit........Georges Bourgeois
Wowkle..................Marie Mattfeld

Conductor...............Arturo Toscanini

Director................David Belasco [Debut]
Director................Edward Siedle [Debut]
Set Designer............James Fox
Costume Designer........Louise Musaeus
Lighting Designer.......Frederick G. Gaus [Debut]

La Fanciulla del West received eleven performances this season.

[David Belasco, author of the play, The Girl of the Golden West, on which the opera was based, worked on every detail of this production, overseeing the design and stage direction.]

From the unsigned review in the New York Herald

"The Girl of the Golden West" Produced in Italian Form in the Metropolitan Opera House Before a Fashionable Throng

GREAT WELCOME FOR COMPOSER AND AUTHOR

For the first time in the history of opera an Italian grand opera with an American theme for the subject of its libretto had its initial production last night, and in the Metropolitan Opera House. The opera was Mr. Giacomo Puccini's "The Girl of the Golden West" ("La Fanciulla del West"), its libretto, in three acts, based on Mr. David Belasco's well known play of the same name.

The event had been looked forward to as socially one of the most brilliant in the history of the house, and the result justified expectation. An audience as large and as brilliant as that which is wont to assemble for the [first] night of the season followed the performance with ever growing interest.

The opera was presented at double prices, ranging from $10 for orchestra seats down to $3 for admittance. Unusual precautions had been taken to outwit speculators, but a few choice seats fell into their hands, and some of them reaped a harvest before the hour of the performance. One sale of four seats for $200 was recorded, and as high as $150 for a single ticket was obtained. The hour of the start of the performance, however, found speculators offering tickets at box office prices, and even then several were left with the prized pasteboards on their hands.

The evening was a climax so far in what the directors of the Metropolitan Opera House have done for grand opera in this city. To procure a new opera for the repertoire is in itself an achievement. To have that novelty performed here for the first time on any stage means even more; and when the opera is the work of the composer of "La Bohème," "Tosca." and "Madama Butterfly" and is the first Italian grand opera based on an American subject, the event assumes great significance. As has been said, New York is indebted for all this to the directors of the Metropolitan Opera House, most active among whom in bringing about the consummation of this most interesting artistic project were Mr. Clarence Mackay and Mr. Otto H. Kahn.

Moreover, Mr. Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the general manager, as an Italian, must have taken peculiar pleasure in doing everything that he could to contribute to the success of his distinguished countryman's work; the same is true of Mr. Arturo Toscanini, who although the opera is a novelty, had so thoroughly imbued himself with its form and spirit that he was not obliged to depart from his custom of conducting from memory, which in the circumstances was a novelty.

The applause that greeted the conductor when he took his seat was the first chance for expression of the suppressed excitement that pervaded the house, This suppression was due to expectation aroused by the importance of the event. Mr. Puccini's operas have been among the most popular in the repertoire. Here was another, the first performance of it, too, and in the Metropolitan Opera House. The title also piqued curiosity. It is one of Mr. Belasco's most popular plays done into opera, a thoroughly American play honored by the most popular living composer of Italian opera by being chosen by him as the basis of his most mature score.

Naturally there also was curiosity as to how the play would lend itself to opera and how a company of foreign artists, singing in Italian, would succeed in "getting it over." But could there be any real doubt when the principal rôles were sung by Miss Emmy Destinn, Mr. Enrico Caruso and Mr. Pasquale Amato, and the others also were in excellent hands? Moreover, Mr. Belasco himself had assisted materially in the production, having directed the "business" of the play at many of the rehearsals.

Nor was the result long in doubt. From the first the great audience felt the double grip of potent music and drama. After the first act there was a great outburst of enthusiasm. First the three principal artists were called out several times. Then they appeared with Mr. Toscanini. He too had to be led out more than once. Then the applause rose again, and burst out anew as Mr. Puccini appeared before the curtain with artists and conductor. Finally he was obliged to walk out alone.

Meantime, however, there had been calls of "Belasco! Belasco!" and at last the playwright and composer appeared together amid cheers. Perhaps it was the first time in the history of opera that any one who had a thing to do with the libretto shared in the ovation to the composer...

The production is the most realistic feat ever attempted at the Metropolitan. Mr. Belasco spent from eight to ten hours a day rehearsing the "business" and succeeded in getting action that at times is startling it its effectiveness. In the forest scene mounted cowboys dashed across the stage and the rush of the mob was charged with excitement. In the saloon the gambling incidents were illustrated by constant action.

In scenic effects, too, the production was remarkable and the lighting was admirably done. In fact, no stone had been left unturned to please and startle the eye both by detail and mass.

Into this scenic frame, aided by a cast of great singers, Mr. Puccini's music fitted wonderfully. It is a tremendous bit of writing. It is full of difficulties for both singers and orchestra, but last night's performance was letter perfect.

The cast was almost flawless. Miss Destinn in the title rôle earned new laurels, both as singer and actress. She portrayed the simple charm of the girl and also showed the tremendous depths of the first love that had come into her life. She sang as she never had here before, particularly in the second act, when her vocal art was taxed to the utmost.

Mr. Caruso, as Dick Johnson, had one of the best rôles that has ever fallen to his lot. Despite his nationality he looked the part, and he acted it with naturalness. Vocally he was glorious, especially in the last act, in the solo preceding the threatened lynching. In the final duet his voice and Miss Destinn's had appealing qualities that brought tears to many eyes.

No less impressive was Mr. Amato, in the finely portrayed character of Sheriff Rance. In make-up and deliberate actions he vividly suggested Mr. Frank Keenan, who was the Sheriff in the original play. He wore frilled shirt, turnover cuffs and a plug hat of unknown age, and every gesture was weighted with deliberateness and coolness. He sang admirably, pleading when begging for Minnie's heart in the first act, and making the dramatic moments ring with convincing force.

As a swaggering cowboy, Mr. Gilly was picturesque. He strode about as though he had lived in the saddle all his life. Miss Matfield, as the Indian woman, Wowkle, was good. So was Mr. Reiss as Nick, a barkeeper. Mr. Didur as most commendable as an express agent. In fact, all were "in the picture," both dramatically and musically. Seldom has such "team work" among great artists been seen and heard.

Mr. Toscanini seemed to have poured all his artistic self into the conducting. He had every effect at his fingers ends-or at the end of his baton-and the orchestra followed him implicitly. His dramatic climaxes sent chills down the listener's spine, while his tender moments melted the mood even of prosaic opera goers.

It was a notable night in the history of opera in America. In a word, it was the kind of premiere of which older Europe would have been very proud and of which New York would have been envious.


Unsigned review from an unidentified theatrical magazine

THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST

America's First Production of Grand Opera by a Great Master is a Triumphant Success -
The "Girl" is Another "Butterfly."

Puccini made no mistake when he chose Belasco's well-known melodrama for the subject of his new opera. The primal human passions, love, lust, revenge, are what his musical genius most naturally interprets. The story is one of life in a miner's camp reduced to its simplest elements. Robbery, murder and sudden death are the chief incidents. There is however, especially in the first act, plenty of relief, and not a few joyous moments, while the ending is happy. Not that the ending of an opera is so very important. The prevailing note of the music is struck long before that. And the prevailing note of Puccini's music is tragic. Poignant, heart-breaking emotion he can evoke as no other composer of the present day. And yet his pathos never for a moment becomes slushy or weak. He is the faithful interpreter of the heart's tragedies. You feel it just as much in the first act when a simple tune turns all the "boys" in the camp to thinking of a distant home as you do when Caruso, as Dick Johnson, sings what is most wonderful. Puccini is able to tug the heart's strings without sacrificing one bar of his natural flow of melody. He is indeed most musical when grief has reached its climax; witness the tenor airs in the last acts of "Tosca" and the "Girl." In that respect Puccini is nearer to Tchaikovsky than any other composer of our time, and he has the advantage over Tchaikovsky in as much as he has his gay moments.

The first act of the "Girl" is perhaps the best act that Puccini ever wrote. Apparently a mass of confused and often trivial incident as would seem at first to be almost beyond melodious treatment. Yet Puccini has made a complete and most musical picture of it. Herein more than anywhere else he has been ably assisted by Mr. Belasco. Who but the indefatigable stage manager could have turned a number of singers of the Latin races into veritable American miners and ranchmen? And who but Belasco could have made a beautiful stage picture out of the bare boards of a barroom in a mining camp? Notice the posing of Destinn under the one remaining light as the curtain falls; a real Belasco trick, but a very effective one. Throughout the act the music is delightfully tuneful and most varied in character. Of course one hears many a familiar phrase. Puccini repeats himself. But so far as that goes he follows the example of no less a person than Wagner. After all, he has to express himself in his own language. You do not blame a French poet who insists on writing all his works in French. And Puccini's method of musical expression is just like a language. You may hear Strauss effects among the contra bases and an occasional chord from Debussy's favorite scale, but in the main the language is Puccini's own.

On the whole the first act is the best Puccini ever wrote. The second act is a more passionate evolution of the musical ideas of the first. The barroom dance melody becomes a lover's appeal and the phrases of the "Girl's" music take on a more tragic coloring, But the amazing thing is the composer's rendering of things which would seem to have no musical aspect at all. Even the card scene is carried off with such an air both by the composer and those two great artists, Destinn and Amato, that one forgives the artificiality. They fix the attention of the audience upon the fact that a human life is at stake between a man and a woman of strong passions. The actual form of the game does not matter much. It is only in the last act that Puccini, breaking away from Belasco, fails to be convincing. In the play Johnson is caught and brought to the room at the back of the bar where Destinn is teaching her grown-up school, and there she makes her appeal for his life. The scene is perfectly natural. Puccini gets Johnson into the woods where there is much hue and cry and then a huge amount of talk while the "boys" are stringing him up. Caruso actually sings his lovely air with the rope around his neck, and when he finishes, the "Girl" arrives neatly in time to save him. Nothing could be more old-fashioned and less American. In real life the "boys" would not have wasted five minutes in talk before they had Johnson hanging by the neck. One thinks of the traditional opera chorus that turns to the audience and sings while the house is burning down. It is a pity that Puccini did not stick to Belasco's last act with its beautiful tableau at the end. As it is, the exquisite air of the tenor, such as only Caruso can sing it, just saves the last act from falling flat.

With Destinn, Caruso and Amato in the principal parts, there is no need to discuss the quality of the singing. Chief praise is due to Destinn because her music is extremely difficult, so much of it is very high with long sustained notes and little support from the orchestra. In the first act her voice often had that wonderful quality which we associate only with Melba's. She has never had a part that suits her so well. The only drawback is that it seems almost impossible for any known singer to carry the part satisfactorily after Destinn has once been heard. Caruso, too, is well provided for. He says himself that Dick is already his favorite part. His singing and acting throughout were as good as he knows how to make them. He was in fact Dick Johnson to the life. To hear Amato you must be sure not to miss the first act. His one vocal chance comes there and he makes the best use of it. For the rest he acts magnificently and he smokes, poor man, three cigars. In private life he rarely smokes at all. Could not Belasco let him off the cigars?

Production photos of La Fanciulla del West by White Studios.



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