For the week of March 15 to 21, 2021 the Met Opera is streaming the fans’ favourite productions. Here they are as selected by operaphiles around the world: Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Handel’s Agrippina
La Fanciulla may have been Puccini’s favourite opera but it is not his best. It does have a superb score and with fine singers it provides a superb operatic experience. The plot is quite something else but more about that later.
Even without knock-their-socks-off arias, there are magnificent set pieces that require vocal acrobatics and emotional intensity to satisfy most eclectic tastes. This production has two Wagnerian singers in the main roles and their performances were outstanding. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann sang the role of Dick Johnson a.k.a. the bandit Ramirez. He is a criminal with a heart of gold sung by a voice of the same metal. Kaufmann can be tender, romantic and heroic.
Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is Minnie, the owner of a saloon in a mining camp during the California Gold Rush. Minnie is a simple girl who must deal with rough gold miners, men who want her and, of course, Johnson who is very mysterious. Like Johnson, she faces emotional turmoil that require the tenderness of Puccini and the vocal prowess of a Wagnerian. She delivers with power and impeccable impeccable tone.
Baritone Željko Lučić sings the role of the the nasty sheriff Jack Rance. Lučić can appear menacing with a sneering glance. Add his powerful voice and physique and you have a scary villain.
Kaufmann and Westbroek are superb actors and under the detailed direction of Giancarlo del Monaco, their hand gestures, body language, facial expressions and all actions and reactions to each other are flawless. Del Monaco staged this production in 1991 and it has held very well in this 2018 revival that was shown in cinemas around the world. The only detail one may quibble with is the presence of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln behind the bar. During the Gold Rush of 1849-1850, Lincoln was nowhere to be seen on the national scene not to mention that California did not become a state until late in 1850 but who wants to quibble.
Well-deserved kudos to the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Marco Armiliato.
The sets designed by Michael Scott to represent Minnie’s saloon, her cabin in the woods and the forest are excellent and the costumes are what you would expect on stage pretending to be a western.
The libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini after the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco, is at best creaky and improbable even by operatic standards. Minnie gives Bible lessons to the rough and ready miners; after Rance tries to rape her, the quandary is settled in a poker game between Minnie and Rance; the mob of miners is ready to hang Johnson but she can talk them out of it. These examples and more stretch one’s credulity to the breaking point. But with the right singers as in this production, you simply ignore the creaks and enjoy a superb performance.
La Fanciulla del West by Giacomo Puccini was streamed by the Metropolitan Opera on March 16, 2021. For more information go to its website: www.metopera.org