Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Deborah Voigt as Minnie [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
19 Dec 2010

La Fanciulla del West, New York

La Fanciulla del West is Puccini’s love letter to an America that had acclaimed him joyously on his triumphant visit of 1907 to attend the Met premieres of Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly.

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

Minnie: Deborah Voigt; Dick Johnson: Marcello Giordani; Jack Rance: Lucio Gallo; Nick: Tony Stevenson; Sonora: Dwayne Croft; Jake: Oren Gradus. Metropolitan Opera House chorus and orchestra conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Performance of December 14.

Above: Deborah Voigt as Minnie

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

His gratitude and admiration were as sincere as America’s applause, and he lavished on this very American story, based on a hit play about the Gold Rush, everything he had learned about the orchestral canvas. Despite an all-star cast (Destinn, Caruso, Amato, Toscanini in the pit), the opera had a less than dazzling premiere in 1910 and has never quite matched the most popular of his operas.

It is a thousand pities that Puccini, who died in 1924, never saw or read Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, published the same year. He would have been just the man to translate that poetic drama of love for property versus love for, well, a lover, with its classical overtones of adultery, infanticide and murderous family conflict in backwoods America into theatrical melody. Almost unstageable today, the play cries out for Italianization and Puccini’s gift for making lurid action and character memorably tuneful. But the great ships Puccini and O’Neill passed in the night.

Fanciulla_Met_2010_01.gifMarcello Giordani as Dick Johnson and Deborah Voigt as Minnie

It was Puccini’s custom to attend plays in languages he didn’t understand; if they knocked him out anyway, he knew they’d make good operas, and he had thus discovered David Belasco’s Madame Butterfly. His choice now fell on Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West, then playing to packed houses on Broadway. If the clichés of its plot still make us smile (pistol-packing, Bible-teaching virgin cheats at poker to save her man and rides in on horseback just in time to prevent his lynching), it is because Belasco, who had actually been raised in Gold Rush California, set the tone for ten thousand Western movies and TV episodes to follow. The score is melodramatic (a good thing), romantic and set to thrill if you get the right singers, if the right singers exist anymore. Since Fanciulla and Puccini’s later Il Trittico remain the only works premiered at the Met to have gained any enduring popularity, the opera’s centennial had to be marked by revival there no matter the lack of a proper spinto diva.

Fanciulla, despite its swift-moving, surefire story and lush orchestration, does not quite win us over, though the proper cast can make Act II as thrilling as anything in the verismo idiom. Minnie, with so much to sing but no big memorable tune and cursed with a happy ending, has seldom been a favorite with sopranos or the public. Puccini does some wonderful scene-painting (the Sierras at sunset sort of thing, splendidly backdropped by Michael Scott at the Met), and the lovely waltz the miners clap for Minnie’s first dance with Dick Johnson was good enough for Andrew Lloyd Webber to steal it, but she has no irresistible statement of personality to rival “Mi chiamano Mimi” or “Un bel dî” or “Il sogno di Doretta”; nothing to lure us to love the character and be curious about her destiny. Minnie is perhaps too simple to need to explain herself but the unforgettable tune is a necessity, and it’s not here. That lack keeps Fanciulla on the shelf of also-ran Puccini. Emmy Destinn, for whom the part was composed, never recorded any of it, there being no proper aria to fit the three-minute 78rpm format of the day.

FANCIULLA_Gallo_and_Voigt_0.gifLucio Gallo as Jack Rance and Deborah Voigt as Minnie

When did the Met last have a credible Minnie? Kirsten and Steber were before my time. Friends mention Dimitrova or Daniels to me; I heard Maralin Niska do it pretty well at the City Opera, though her horse refused to stand still. Aprile Millo did a fine job for Queler some years back but her instrument has been on again-off again for years. Who does that leave us? Could Radvanovsky do it? Would she want to? Accustomed to Verdi, she has commented that Puccini’s orchestra may be too large for her, but she will take on Tosca this winter. That should be interesting.

The Met has given the part to Deborah Voigt, who stakes a claim based on her coloring, her acting, her Americanness and her ability to dismount from a horse, albeit stiffly, in full view of the audience. Her voice, though, is fool’s gold, tatterdemalion, trumpery—it doesn’t pan out. At Minnie’s entrance, breaking up a bar fight, gun a-blazing, fresh and girlish and frontier healthy, Voigt sounds seventy-five years old, the voice wavery and thin. So, too, in the schoolmarm scene and throughout the love music. When she gets anywhere near the proper spinto quality, her breath cannot sustain it. She finally warms up by the climactic poker game that ends Act II, which is far too late. All this should be no surprise to anyone—it’s just the way she sang Senta last year, Isolde the year before that. And you would have to ask stage director Giancarlo del Monaco why instead of green California forest, he has given Minnie a dusty and anachronistic Southwest ghost town for the last act, depriving her of a place to ride a horse on stage, Belasco’s surefire climax. (Mr. del Monaco, who has always had a wall eye for era and locale, had perhaps seen too many Sergio Leone Westerns.)

FANCIULLA_Act_1_scene_0117a.gifA scene from Act I of with Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson and Deborah Voigt as Minnie (dancing) and Lucio Gallo (seated) as Jack Rance

Marcello Giordani, looking very Latin badman in a black duster and mustachios, carries off such vocal honors as the evening offers, with soaring, unstrained sound for Dick’s romantic yearnings, only missing a note or two at the bottom of his range. Lucio Gallo surprised me with an effectively sung and acted Sheriff Rance in a white duster, to confuse those of us accustomed to black-and-white cowboy symbolism. Among the many character roles that endear the opera to comprimarios everywhere, none of them overmugged, I especially enjoyed Tony Stevenson’s jolly bartender, Dwayne Croft’s sturdy Sonora and Oren Gradus as a wandering minstrel. Del Monaco’s direction, aside from putting the horses in the wrong scene, was stagy but not too gimmicky. It did not offend. But if you’re going to make your saloon the size of Grand Central Station, do you have to put the Sheriff and Minnie on opposite sides of it when he is trying to whisper sweet propositions in her ear? (And why put the saloon piano upstairs and out of the way, where it can hardly be useful at parties?)

Nicola Luisotti conducted. He has a flair for Puccini’s big climaxes but he lets them get far too loud. There were several scenes, especially the crowded ones, in which one had to strain to hear the voices. One would appreciate Maestro Luisotti toning it down a bit.

John Yohalem

Right click here to download a video clip from the Poker Scene.

Right click here to download a video clip of the Act II duet with Johnson and Minnie.

Same opera, same production, same cast—but the difference was like night and day. On January 3rd, an indisposed Voigt was replaced by Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos, who had made her Met debut on December 22nd, a scheduled performance in the same role.

Matos is a genuine spinto—except when she sounds like a real lyric—except when she sounds hochdramatisch. In Europe, she sings in all these categories, but to hell with fach. She has a golden, gleaming sound, warm and fragrant when she lets her guard down romantically (and Minnie in Fanciulla del West is a girl who loves love stories), lyric and casual when jesting with her family of miners, and though brilliant and full (and smack on pitch for the B of “stelle” and the C’s in Act II), her voice is never harsh in anguish or triumph. With a Minnie of this quality, Puccini’s opera finally and worthily celebrated its hundredth birthday at the Met. (Can we have her back again soon? Please? As Butterfly, say, or Sieglinde?)

Matos, though younger, looks very like Debbie Voigt: She cuts a sturdy figure, more athletic frontierswoman than fashion model. A natural actress, she seemed to know each miner inside and out, able to play with them, tease them, slap them about, tousle their hair. This makes all the sillier Giancarlo Del Monaco’s staging of the opera’s climax, when Minnie begs the miners to spare her lover’s life: She has no need to fire guns at them. She knows and we know they’ll never shoot at her. They adore her. She’s never asked them for anything before—and now she does, and of course they let her and her lover depart together romantically into the sunset. (Del Monaco, thinking as usual that he’s cleverer than Puccini, sends all the miners off with them, instead of having them tug our heartstrings as they wave her a last farewell. Puccini always knew what he was doing; directors mess with him at their peril.)

With a different prima donna, a genuine Fanciulla at the heart of the opera, every singer on the stage seemed to turn up an energetic notch or two—glorious high notes from Giordani, fine contributions from Owen Gradus’s Jake, Keith Miller’s Ashby, Dwayne Croft’s Sonora and, well, drinks around the bar, boys! I mean, ragazzi! Great work by all hands. A starry night.

-J.Y.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):