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The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco
23 Nov 2008

PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West — Firenze 1954

La Fanciulla del West: Opera in three acts.

G. Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

Ashby: Vito Susca; Bello: Virgilio Carbonari; Billy Jackrabbit: Paolo Washington; Dick Johnson: Mario del Monaco; Happy: Agostino Ferrin; Harry: Valiano Natali; Jack Rance: Giangiacomo Guelfi; Jake Wallace: Giorgio Tozzi; Jim Larkens: Giorgio Giorgetti; Joe: Enzo Guagni; José Castro: Mario Frosini; Minnie: Eleanor Steber; Nick: Piero di Palma; Sid: Lido Pettini; Sonora: Enzo Viaro; Trin: Brenno Ristori; Un postiglione: Alberto Lotti-Canini; Wowkle: Laura Didier Gambardella. Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor.
Live performance, 15 June 1954, Florence.

 

Music composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini after David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West (1905).

First Performance: 10 December 1910, Metropolitan Opera House, New York.

Principal Roles:
Minnie Soprano
Jack Rance, sheriff Baritone
Dick Johnson/Ramerrez, bandit Tenor
Nick, bartender at the Polka saloon Tenor
Ashby, Wells Fargo agent Bass
Sonora Baritone
Trin, a miner Tenor
Sid, a miner Baritone
Bello, a miner Baritone
Harry, a miner Tenor
Joe a miner Tenor
Happy a miner Baritone
Larkens, a miner Bass
Billy Jackrabbit, a Red Indian Bass
Wowkle, his squaw Mezzo-Soprano
Jake Wallace, a travelling camp minstrel Baritone
José Castro (mestizo), one of Ramerrez’s band Bass
The Pony Express riders Tenor

Setting: A camp of miners at the foot of the Cloudy Mountains during the California Gold Rush (1849-50).

Introduction:

The plot is concerned with rather melodramatic happenings during the days of the California Gold Rush. While remaining true, in general, to his usual melodious style, Puccini has adapted his score to a rapidly moving conversational dialogue. He also shows that he was aware of the musical progress of the times by his use of consecutive and unresolved seventh chords somewhat in the manner of Ravel, and in the employment of Debussian augmented triads. Moreover, for the sake of local color, he introduces melodies and rhythms characteristic of the South and Southwest.

Synopsis:

Act I

Ashby, agent of the Wells Fargo Company, enters the “Polka” bar-room, and, joining the miners there assembled, says that he is close on the track of Ramerrez, chief of the band of Mexican outlaws who have recently committed a big robbery. The sheriff, Jack Rance, in talking with the men, boasts of his own love affair with the “girl,” Minnie, and says that he is going to marry her. One of the miners disputes his claim and a brawl results. Minnie herself enters and stops it. Minnie runs the “Polka,” for she is the orphaned child of the founder of this establishment, and also acts as mother and guardian angel to the miners and cowboys who frequent the place. When Rance proposes to her in his crude fashion, she spurns him and holds him at bay with a revolver. A stranger enters and gives his name as Dick Johnson of Sacramento. The sheriff is suspicious concerning him, but Minnie takes his part, saying that she has met him before. Johnson is in reality none other than the hunted Ramerrez — he has come to rob the saloon. Unaware of this, Minnie recalls with Dick the time they first met and fell in love with one another. The men all go in search of Ramerrez, leaving with Minnie their gold. She declares that if anyone is to steal the gold he must do so over her dead body. Johnson has become more and more enamoured of her and relinquishes his plan of robbery; now he admires her courage. She invites him to visit her in her cabin when the miners shall have returned.

Act II

Johnson and Minnie meet at her “shack” and sing of their love. Suddenly shots are heard outside in the darkness — the men are again searching for Ramerrez. Not wanting to be found with her lover, she conceals John¬son, then admits the men. They are hunting, they say, for Dick Johnson, who is none other than Ramerrez. Minnie declines their offered protection and they leave. Then she turns upon Johnson with the revelations that she has just heard. Dick acknowledges their truth, but goes on to tell how he was compelled by fate to become a bandit; since meet¬ing her he has resolved to give up his old life, and had prayed, in vain, that she would never know of his past. The tense dramatic atmosphere is reflected in somber chords in the orchestra.

But Minnie cannot forgive him for having deceived her after confessing his love. She sends him out into the night. A moment later shots are heard, Minnie runs to the door, opens it and drags in Johnson, seriously wounded. She hides him in a loft up under the roof. The sheriff soon enters, hot on the trail. Minnie has almost overcome his suspicions when a drop of blood falls from the loft, revealing the wounded man. Knowing that the sheriff is a desperate gambler, Minnie, as a last resort, offers to play a game of poker with him, the stakes to be her own hand and Johnson’s life, or else her own and the prisoner’s freedom. Minnie cheats, wins the game and her lover.

Act III

Johnson, nursed back to life by Minnie, is about to be hanged by Ashby’s men. He asks one last request. Let her believe that he had gained his freedom and gone away to live the nobler life she had taught him. He touchingly apostrophizes her as the “star of his wasted life.” This last request of Johnson’s is sung to the most famous melody in the opera (“Ch’ella mi creda libero”).

Just as the lynchers are about to draw the rope taut, Minnie rushes in on horseback. She at first holds the crowd at bay with her drawn revolver, then appeals to them eloquently, reminding them of her faithful care for their needs; they should not fail her now. The “boys” relent, and in spite of Rance’s protests, release the prisoner. Johnson and Minnie bid them farewell and go away together to begin life anew.

[Introduction and Synopsis adapted from The Victor Book of the Opera (10th ed. 1929)]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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