The Girl of the Golden West
Puccini, LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST
Franz Welser-Möst , Cond.
Nina Stemme | Minnie
Tomasz Konieczny | Sheriff Jack Rance
Jonas Kaufmann | Dick Johnson (Ramerrez)
Norbert Ernst | Nick
Paolo Rumetz | Ashby
Boaz Daniel | Sonora
Michael Roider | Trin
Hans Peter Kammerer | Sid
Tae-Joong Yang | Bello
Peter Jelosits | Harry
Carlos Osuna | Joe
Clemens Unterreiner | Happy
Il Hong | Larkens
Jongmin Park | Billy Jackrabbit
Juliette Mars | Wowkle
Alessio Arduini | Jake Wallace
Alessio Arduini | José Castro
Wolfram Igor Derntl | Postillion
On his first visit to the United States, in 1905, Puccini saw a performance of David Belasco’s horse opera The Girl of the Golden West and was fascinated by the old stage wizard’s tricks with moving scenery and an elaborate snowstorm. He was also fascinated by the rather simple-minded melodrama of playing poker for the stakes of a man’s life and a woman's body. Finally, he was fascinated by the warmth of the reception that America accorded him.
But it was not till he had returned to Italy that he finally decided to make this play the vehicle for his next operatic score. He had his customary trouble hiring and firing librettists till he got just what he wanted, and he also had serious domestic trouble. His wife became hysterically jealous of a maidservant, accused her publicly of being Puccini’s mistress (which was not true), and drove the girl to suicide. There was a trial; Mme. Puccini was found guilty; the case was appealed, and then withdrawn by the girl’s family. The Puccinis were, however, both severely punished: they were separated for a long time, and the misery they went through left its mark on both of them.
Had not Puccini, years later, composed the scores of Gianni Schicchi and Turandot, one might conclude that this experience had broken his spirit and ended his career as a first-class opera composer. For The Girl, despite the brilliant success of its premiere, is a tired opera. It does have its dramatic moments—particularly during the poker-game scene—but it notably fails in the one virtue the composer claimed for it. “For this drama,” he said, “I have composed music that, I feel sure, reflects the spirit of the American people, and particularly the strong, vigorous nature of the West.” But it is almost all pure second-rate Italian opera, and when the Wild West dialogue intrudes (“Veils Fargol Veils Fargol” shout the cowboys in Act I), it is difficult not to laugh. Yet, it was revived in Chicago in 1956.
Giacomo Puccini - La Fanciulla del West
Domingo, Pons, Zampieri, Maazael
THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST
(La fanciulla del West)
Opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini
with libretto in Italian by Carlo Zangarini and Guelfo Civinini
based on the melodrama of the same name by David Belasco
Minnie, owner of "The Polke"
Nick, its bartender
Jack Rance, the sheriff
Ramerrez, alias Dick Johnson, a bandit
Ashby, agent of the Wells-Far go Transport Co.
Sonora, Trin, Sid, Handsome, miners
Harry, Joe, Larkens, miners
Billy Jackrabbit, an Indian
Wowkle, his squaw
Jake Wallace, a traveling minstrel
Jose Castro, a member of Ramerrez's band
Time: about 1850
First performance at New York, December 10, 1910
Sopramo. The (golden) girl of the West, she is the owner of ‘The Polka’, a pub in which the gold-miners gamble and drink. They all respect Minnie, who reads to them and tells them stories from the Bible. She is loved by the sheriff, Jack Rance, who wants to marry her, but she does not return his feelings—she can remember as a child, the love between her parents, and that is the sort of love she wants for herself. A stranger, Dick Johnson, calls at the inn and he and Minnie talk animatedly. Rance suspects this may be the bandit, Ramerrez, but Minnie vouches for him and invites Johnson to her cabin for a meal that evening. In her cabin, she is looked after by her maid, Wowkle, who prepares the meal for them. She tells Johnson how happy she is living here among the miners. The sheriff calls at the cabin to warn Minnie that the bandit is in the area. She hides Johnson behind the curtains. Rance shows her a photograph of the bandit, and she recognizes it as Johnson. After Rance has left, she turns on him, angry and upset at his deception. He declares his love for her and his intention of leading an honest life in the future, but she insists he leave. No sooner has she closed the door behind him than a shot rings out. The wounded Johnson falls against her door and Minnie drags him in and hides him in her loft. Again Rance arrives and looks round suspiciously. Finding nothing, he is about to leave when blood drips from the loft above, revealing the bandit's whereabouts. Minnie suggests a game of poker. If she wins, Johnson can go free; if she loses, Rance wins her for himself. By cheating, she wins and Rance departs. But he breaks his side of the bargain, telling his men where to find Johnson. They capture him and are about to hang him when Minnie turns on them—do they not owe her anything for the time and love she has given them? Now she is asking them for something—will they not agree to Johnson's freedom? She tells them that Johnson and she will lead an honest life together. The miners accede to her wishes and she and Johnson leave to seek a new life. Arias: Laggiù nel Soledad, ero piccina (‘Back in Soledad, when I was little’); Oh, se sapeste (‘Oh, if only you knew’); duet (with Rance): Una partita a poker! (‘A game of poker!’). Created (1910) by Emmy Destinn.
Eva-Maria Westbroek - "Laggiù nel Soledad" (La Fanciulla Del West) - Puccini
Ten. Bartender at ‘The Polka’, an inn owned by Minnie (the girl of the title). Created ( 1910 ) by Albert Reiss.
Baritone. Sheriff who is trying to track down the notorious bandit Ramerrez. Rance is keen to marry Minnie, owner of the saloon where the miners gamble and drink. He keeps declaring his love for her, but she does not return his feelings. He learns from Ashby, a Wells Fargo agent, that the bandit is somewhere in their area and Ashby gives him a photograph of Ramerrez. A stranger, Dick Johnson, arrives at the inn and is welcomed by Minnie; Rance is both jealous and suspicious. He calls that evening at Minnie's cabin to warn her that Dick Johnson is the bandit Ramerrez and shows her the photograph to prove it. Minnie laughs and sends them away. As Dick Johnson leaves Minnie's house, he is shot by Rance's men. Minnie hides him in her loft and again Rance visits her. He wants to make love to her but she again rejects him. As he is about to leave, blood drips down from the attic above and Johnson is discovered. Rance agrees to Minnie's bargain—they will play poker and if she wins, Johnson will be let free; if she loses, Rance will win her love. By cheating, Minnie wins, and Rance departs. Determined to catch his quarry, Rance rejoins his men in the forest and indicates to them Johnson's hiding—place. They capture him, but as they are about to hang him, Minnie intervenes. The miners support her pleas and she and Johnson leave together. Aria: Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito (‘Minnie, I left my home’). Created (1910) by Pasquale Amato.
Ramerrez, alias Dick Johnson
Tenor. A bandit known as Ramerrez. He is being hunted by the sheriff, Jack Rance. An old girlfriend of Johnson has provided Rance with a photograph to prove his identity. Johnson arrives at the inn owned by Minnie and is welcomed by her and when the sheriff tries to question Johnson, Minnie vouches for his identity. She invites him to join her in her cabin for a meal later that evening. They eat and talk about their life and soon declare their love for each other. As it is snowing, Minnie suggests he stays the night. When the sheriff calls to warn her of the dangerous bandit who is in the area, she hides Johnson behind the curtains. Having seen the picture of ‘Ramerrez’, she orders Johnson to leave. He admits that initially he came to rob her, but now he has fallen in love with her and wants to lead an honest life. He rushes out of her cabin and is immediately shot by the sheriff's men. Minnie pulls him back into her room and helps him up a ladder into her loft. Rance again calls, but finding nothing is about to leave when blood drips from the loft above, revealing Johnson's hiding‐place. Minnie coaxes Rance to a game of poker, the winner will decide Johnson's fate. By cheating, she wins and Rance leaves, but the sheriff tells his men where to find the bandit and they capture him. They are about to hang him when again Minnie intervenes and, out of their love and respect for her, they allow Johnson his freedom. He and Minnie leave together to find a new life. Arias: Oh, non temete…(‘Oh, never fear…’); Sono un dannato! Io so, Io so! (‘I'm a scoundrel! I know, I know!’); Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano (‘Let her think I'm free and far away’). Another of Puccini's great tenor roles, sung by all the greatest Italianate tenors since its creation. Created (1910) by Enrico Caruso.
Plácido Domingo - "Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano" (La Fanciulla del West) - Puccini
Bass. Agent of the Wells Fargo Transport Company. It is Ashby who breaks the news that the bandit Ramerrez is somewhere in the vicinity and provides a photograph (sent by an old girlfriend of the bandit) which the sheriff can use to convince Minnie of Dick Johnson's real identity. Created (1910) by Adamo Didur.
Bass. A Red Indian, lover of Wowkle, Minnie's maid. Created (1910) by Georges Bourgeois.
Mezzo-coprano. Squaw to Billy Jackrabbit and maid of Minnie (the girl of the golden west). Created (1910) by Marie Mattfield.
Bass. A member of the gang headed by the bandit Ramerrez. He is captured and offers to lead the sheriff to the bandits’ camp. Created (1910) by Edoardo Missiano.
The barroom of “The Polka” inn is a favorite spot for the roughnecks of the gold rush to whoop it up, and Minnie, its owner and presiding genius, has the practical assistance of a couple of Indians named Billy Jackrabbit and his squaw Wowkle (pronounced Vuffkleh in Italian). The opening local color includes a game of faro, in which one of the miners is almost strung up for cheating, and a Western ballad singer named Jake Wallace.
There is also Ashby, an agent of the Wells Fargo Transport Company, who says that he is on the lookout for a gang of robbers led by one Ramerrez. Ranee, the sheriff and local big-shot, claims that he is going to marry Minnie; his claim is disputed by the others; there is a free-for-all; and it is Minnie herself who enforces peace at the point of a gun. Now the Wells-Fargo post arrives with a letter for Ashby telling him that Ramerrez will be in the neighborhood shortly. While Ranee, with Italian passion but without success, pleads for Minnie’s love, a stranger named Dick Johnson comes in and immediately arouses the dislike of Ranee. “Stranger, what’s your business?” he asks, sweeping Dick’s drink to the floor, and it is only Minnie's intervention once more which saves Dick— for he, being the leading tenor, has immediately caught her fancy.
While Dick and Minnie are in the next room dancing, Castro, a captured member of the Ramerrez gang, comes in and promises to lead the boys to the hiding place in return for his own life. A moment later Dick returns, and Castro recognizes him as none other than Ramerrez himself. He manages to tell his boss that he has given away no secrets: the boys are merely waiting for the sheriff to go away before they raid the place.
When they all go off, Dick is left with Minnie, who is guarding all the gold for the miners. In the duet that closes the act Dick not only gives up his villainous project for the love of a good woman, but promises to defend her against any attack. Still not knowing the real identity of her new flame, she invites him to come up later and see her in her cabin.
Up in Minnie’s room, Wowkle is singing a lullaby to her papoose and discussing with Billy the advisability of making it all legal. Their domestic discussion is interrupted by the boss-woman, who is getting ready to entertain Dick Johnson with a Western supper. The guest arrives; they discuss life; they decide Dick had better spend the night (in a separate bed) on account of the terrible snowstorm, when a gang of the boys interrupts. Dick, hiding behind a curtain, hears them tell Minnie that they have found out that Dick Johnson is Ramerrez himself; but she laughs at them and manages to shoo them out. Now she turns about and upbraids the bandit. He admits who he is; he pleads his sad history in extenuation (his father’s death left him no alternative in life if he was to support his dear old mother and the other kids); and he says that the sight of Minnie made him decide to turn over a new leaf. Thereupon he rushes out into the night—only to return a moment later, shot by Ranee.
Quickly Minnie hides the wounded man in the loft, and, when Ranee enters, insists that there is no one with her. Ranee cannot find his quarry, but he harshly accuses Minnie of loving the bandit. As they argue, a drop of blood falls from the wounded man; he comes down the ladder and collapses; and Minnie tries one last desperate stratagem. Knowing Ranee for an inveterate gambler, she suggests three hands of poker. If she wins, Dick goes free; if Ranee wins, he can have Dick— and Minnie too. They play, and each wins one of the first two hands. Minnie’s last one, however, is weak; and while Ranee is obligingly getting her a drink, she substitutes five cards from her stocking for the deal she got. Thus, when Ranee shows with three kings, Minnie lays down a full house, aces high. The lovers are left alone.
In a clearing among the giant redwoods of California, a gang of the boys is again hunting for Dick Johnson, who has been nursed back to health only to have to go on the lam once more. Twice there are false alarms of his having been caught; but at last one of the miners, Sonora, brings him in. A rope is prepared for him; everyone takes a turn at accusing him of various crimes; and he replies that he has always stopped short of murder. Finally, they allow him a last word, which turns out to be the one well-known aria from the opera, Ch’ella mi creda libero (“Let her believe me free”), in which he begs that Minnie should never know of his inglorious fate but be allowed to believe he may someday return to her.
Ranee’s reply is to strike him in the face and prepare to pull the rope. But just at this moment in rides Minnie on a horse (if the leading lady is up to it) and brandishing her pistol. Hasn’t she always done everything for the miners? she pleads. And won’t they do one thing for her now: let off the man she loves so that he may begin a new life with her?