Action-Packed Opera in HD, Saturday, Oct. 27, 1:00 p.m.
By Alan Schuster
After American playright David Belasco’s “Madam Butterfly” inspired Giacomo Puccini to debut an operatic version of it in 1904, the composer traveled to America to attend its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in early 1907. While there, Puccini saw a Belasco play, this one entitled “The Girl of the Golden West.” Afterward, he said to Belasco, “Ah, here is my next theme at last.”
But it was more than three years later that Puccini – a slow worker known to make constant changes in the midst of free time for hunting, fishing and courting – returned to the Met in December 1910 with his “La Fanciulla del West.” Both operas had been conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who praised the craftsmanship of “The Girl” as “a great symphonic poem.” The scenario takes place in 1850 with the fate of gold miners and its torment in a mining field in California during the Gold Rush era. Act I: In the mountains of California, Minnie, a young woman of sturdy character, runs a bar where miners come to relieve their boredom. Sheriff Jack Rance wants her, but she does not love him and dreams instead of a great love. Dick Johnson, actually the outlaw Ramerrez, enters. Minnie falls instantly in love with him. The exasperated sheriff leaves the saloon to go find the bandit. Minnie then asks Johnson to meet her that evening.
Act II: At her cabin, Minnie welcomes Johnson. They declare their love for one another, before Rance warns Minnie that Johnson and Ramerrez are one and the same. Minnie sends him packing, but he soon returns, wounded. She hides him; Rance shows up and she notes drops of blood. Minnie then suggests a poker game in which she and Johnson are the stakes. She cheats and saves Johnson. Act III: Later, despite everything, Johnson is captured and taken to be hanged. An armed Minnie shows up just in time and reminds the miners of everything she has done for them. Grateful but sad, they allow the lovers to ride away into the sunset.
While the opera lacks any “great arias” or “great roles,” the orchestra and chorus play predominant parts. Puccini’s inventive music is perfectly matched to a continuous flow of dramatic situations and liveliness of the plot. As for the men’s chorus, they not only drive the plot with voices but also with athletic staging, highlighted by a barroom fight worthy of “a bare-fisted Clint Eastwood movie.”
One reason the opera is seldom produced is that there are few sopranos who can take on the daunting role of Minnie. It’s been aptly called a “voice killer,” with the second act having some of the most intense singing in the soprano repertoire.
Cast: Eva-Maria Westbroek sings Puccini’s gun-slinging heroine in this romantic epic of the Wild West. Joining her is tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the role of the outlaw Dick Johnson. Baritone Zeljko Lucic is the vigilante sheriff Jack Rance and Marco Armiliato conducts.
Tickets are now available. All seats general admission. Adults $20; OLLI members $18; Students $10; Order at centerforthearts.com or call 843-521-4145.