Thursday, April 17, 2008

Golden Girl

Its California, it’s the Gold Rush. The Cloudy Mountains loom in the background; cowboys on horses pass by on the one street in town or join the miners in drinking, gambling and thinking of home at the Polka Saloon. A trio of miners enter the Polka:

Italian Poster for La Fanciulla del west
Harry, Joe, Bello: “Hello”, Nick!
Nick: Buono sera ragazzi
Sid and Happy: “Hello”!
Nick: “Hello”!
Joe and Bello: “Dooda, dooda, day”
Harry: Sigari, Nick!
Joe: e whisky!

You could be forgiven for thinking I spent last Friday watching one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns without the subtitles but actually it was La fanciulla del west – Puccini’s take on David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West 1911 premiere of La Fanciulla del west in a very realistic production by Giancarlo Del Monaco at the Rome Opera. Premièred at the Metropolitan back in 1911 with Caruso (at left with Emmy Destinn and Guiseppe Amato) starring as the bandit-hero – the awkwardly named Dick Johnson – and Toscanini conducting, it never really gained a foothold in the permanent repertoire until the later part of the 20th century.

Act 1I have to admit that its not one of my favourite Puccini works so I wasn’t excited when it showed up as part of our subscription for the season. But then they announced that Daniela Dessi and hubby Fabio Armiliato would be starring in the “first” cast and I started praying to the gods of casting. By way of explanation performances are given here on consecutive days and as a result most productions are multi-cast. Specific casts are not announced until a month before the performance, so ya pays ya money and takes ya chances. So far this season we’ve ended up with first cast for the Tosca and the Fanciulla – a big YES to both. I had heard so much about Daniela Dessi from Opera Chic and Flipstinger that I just had to hear her and Fabio.

Act 2On the topic of Fabio, let’s get this out of the way first: a YouTube clip of a first night encore of his Ch'ella mi creda libro had the aficionados in certain circles carrying on like a pile o’stepped on rattlesnakes in a sack. I hadn’t seen that much venom spewed since Lucrezia Borgia was plying her trade across the river. Based on what I heard and saw at an entire performance, not just a brief clip, he did just fine. Was he a great Dick Johnson (god they have to do something about that name)vocally? No, but then who has been since Domingo? It was a good performance - of a piece, well thought through and compellingly sung and the Act 3 aria was heartbreaking. And no, he did not get an encore.

If the information on the Internet is correct baritone Silvano Carroli (Sheriff Jack Rance) is almost 70 and sadly in the first act he sounded every year of it. However in the Act 2 Poker scene he and Dessi played off each other vocally and dramatically to make it a tense climax to an act that already been pretty heady in the drama department.

Act 3Much of that drama was Dessi, a lyric soprano with astounding powers of communication. She may not have the full vocal power to be the ideal Minnie but she drew a nuanced portrait of a strong frontier woman - mother, teacher and lover. Puccini doesn't give Minnie any great show piece aria but Dessi didn't need one - her saloon keeper with the heart of gold had a golden voice throughout. A lovely little touch - just before she read the Bible to the miners she shyly slipped on a pair of glasses and with them the air of the old maid Minnie could become crept in.

Belasco would have loved Del Monaco's production (on loan from the Los Angeles Opera) - it was filled with realistic detail including a relentlessly falling snow during Act 2. Unfortunately the rescue scene was bungled with most of the action taking place too far upstage right for many of the audience to see. And Minnie did not come galloping in on horseback to save her bandit-lover. Having proven her horseman ship in Act 2 I'm sure that Dessi could have managed it while singing gloriously.

Gianluigi Gelmetti led a well-paced performance - he strikes me as a conductor of the Serfain school - always there to support the singers not necessarily to bring attention to himself. The gentleman of the Rome Opera disported themselves convincingly as cowboys, miners and banditos and even managed a bar room brawl with a fair bit of panache.

Curtain CallGianluigi Gelmetti and the cast takes their bows last Friday night.

I'm still not a convert to Fanciulla but based on what I saw Friday night I think I'm going to join OC and Flipstinger in becoming a Dessi devotee.

The production photos are from the Los Angeles Opera and are by Robert Millard.

17 aprile - San Giacomo di Campostello


Doralong said...

you never cease to amaze me Wills- never..

Sling said...

Okay,..I just have to see this 'Opera' stuff for myself!
I may not know from Puccini,but I know a good story line when I hear it. :)

sageweb said...

Ha ha you said Dick Johnson twice.

Hi its me, immature blogger, here you are bringing me a wonderful insight to a great culture and I kept thinking if I was there I would have laughed each time I heard Dick Johnson...ha

Anonymous said...

You've finally managed to post this much awaited review...

Grazie Mille! for this dahlin =)very informative and well thought out insight of the opera itself and the performance. After reading this, I'm even more envious of your experience being there. I'm glad you're turning into a Dessi devotee. Next thing you know, you'll be following her around Italy - lucky you as she does quite a bit of performances there.

catch up with ya later,

evilganome said...

I've never seen a "Fanciulla". It sounds like I missed an interesting evening. I do remember that Caldwell did a production back in the 70's here in Boston, but I was probably too busy misbehaving. You're right about that name though. Dick Johnson? That's up there with the deserts of Louisiana in "Manon Lescault".