La Fanciulla del West

Fanciulla is Puccini’s American opera. It’s set during the California gold rush and it was the first opera ever to premiere in New York, one hundred years and a couple of days ago. The soprano role, Minnie, is notoriously difficult to sing and so it isn’t produced all that often.

Yesterday’s show had the inimitable Debbie Voigt singing Minnie. This was an inspired choice as the part really does need the bigger Wagnerian voice and she’s also a good actress. She was partnered with Marcello Giodarno as the bandit Dick Johnson and Lucio Gallo as the sheriff, Jack Rance. Nicola Luisotti was in the pit. I was not terribly familiar with the piece having tried and failed to watch a recording of a 1980s ROH production (more to do with the gratuitous racism of the production than anything else). Musically it’s interesting and I enjoyed it more than most Puccini pieces. All the main roles were extremely well sung and acted. I especially liked Lucio Gallo. If you ever need a baritone to sing Dick Dastardly he’s your man. Debbie and Marcello were in fine voice, individually and together, and as Debs said in her intermission interview, Minnie doesn’t seem quite so challenging if you have sung Isolde. Certainly Miss Voight seemed completely in command of her vocal line from beginning to end.

The production, which I think dates back to the 80s was conventional and realistic, if a bit cluttered. It’s still the wild west as seen by Puccini and his librettist so it is about as historically accurate as, say, Turandot or Madama Butterfly, but no worse than 9/10 western movies. The bar brawl was very well done. The price paid for the cluttered realistic sets though was excessively long intervals. Rough timings for the three acts came to 70, 40 and 30 minutes. Two 45 minute intervals seems excessive for a piece of that length. The broadcast was pretty good. There were three or four tiny blips in the sound and the bass balance was a bit weird in places but generally more than adequate. The camera work was unobtrusive and, since the whole thing had a spaghetti western quality anyway, the things I usually dislike about recordings versus seeing the whole stage were less a problem than usual.

All in all, a pretty good piece made genuinely affecting by fine singing and playing by all concerned.

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