Puccini's Girl Of The Golden West - The Original Spagetthi Western
In 1910, the Metropolitan Opera presented the world premiere of Puccini's latest opera, La Fanciulla Del West (Fan-CHOOL-a), or the Girl of the Golden West, which is set in 19th century California . It's the story of a spirited young woman,Minnie, who tends the saloon at the bar in a mining camp, and also teaches a kind of Sunday school for the miners. The opera is based on a play by the once popular American playwright David Belasco.
I suppose you could call this the first spaghetti western ! For this somewhat improbable story, Puccini used genuine American songs from the woild west and uses them for local color. The cast for the premiere included the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) as Minnie's beloved, the Mexican bandit Ramirez, and the once famous Czech soprano Emmy Destinn as Minnie. The great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini , a firiend and champion of Puccini,conducted, and the composer was there to supervise the production.
The opera never became as popular as Puccini's earlier operas La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, but has held its own for nearly a century. The music is still very beautiful and colorful.
In the first act, we see the miners in the saloon, singing, playing poker drinking and arguing. All of them are very fond of the beautiful Minnie, who often consoles them for their homesickness and read Bible verses to them, but she still doesn't have a steady beau. There are stories of a dangerous Mexican bandit threatening the town, and sheriff Jack Rance, a bitter,divorced man who has unrequited love for Minnie, is on the case.
A stranger comes in, calling himself Dick Johnson from Sacramento comes in, but is looked on suspiciously by the miners and sherrriff Rance. He's actually the bandit. Minnie and the stranger fall for each other. He tells her that she has the face of an angel.
In the second act, the two have gone off to Minnie's cabin in the hills. It's winter and there's snow on the ground, and Rance and the miners are after the Mexican bandit. Ramirez is shot, and Minnie keeps him hidden in her cabin. She learns of his true identity, but still loves him. Rance and the miners interrogate Minnie. They know the bandit is when a drop of blood falls from above. Rance and Minnie agree to play a game of poker. If she wins, she's free to go off with Ramirez. If she loses, they'll string him up. Minnie wins, with a little bit of cheating, and Rance reluctantly leaves.
In the 3rd act, Ramirez has been caught by Rance and the miners. They allow him to speak before the hanging, and he sings an aria saying that he hopes that Minnie will think he escaped and is alive. But suddenly, Minnie bursts in on her horse, and pleads with the miners to let him live. Because of their affection for her, the miners allow the two to go off to freedom together.
Sounds kind of improbable, doesn't it? But the opera works, and is very entertaining. Famous sopranos such as the late Renata Tebaldi, have loved to sing the role of Minnie, and great tenors such as Placido Domingo and Mario Del Monaco have been associated with the role of the bandit. Tebaldi has recorded the opera for Decca with Del Monaco, but the recording you ought to get is on Deutsche Grammophon with soprano Carlol Neblett, Domingo, and the great American baritone Sherrill MIlnes conducted by Zubin Mehta, and there is a DVD of the Met's current production.