Opera Bites: Puccini gives Italian take on the Wild West

Friday, January 7, 2011
Marcello Giordani, left, performs as Dick Johnson/Ramirrez with Deborah Voigt as Minnie during the final dress rehearsal of Giacomo Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (Mary Altaffer ~ Associated Press)

On Saturday, the high-definition broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera will be Giacomo Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West." The performance begins at noon at AMC Town Plaza 5 in Cape Girardeau. The encore will be Jan. 26.

Soprano Deborah Voight will sing the role of Minnie, and tenor Marcello Giordani will be Dick Johnson.

"La Fanciulla" premiered Jan. 10, 1910, at the Metropolitan Opera with Enrico Caruso in the role of Dick Johnson. There were 55 curtain calls. When the opera premiered in Italy, the critics were not sure what to think about an Italian opera set in the Wild West of America.

The opera takes place in California in 1849. Act I is set in the Polka Saloon. The miners are all in love with Minnie, the owner of the bar. The sheriff, Jack Rance, is also in love with her. There is news about the forthcoming capture of the Mexican bandit Ramirrez. A stranger appears and introduces himself as Dick Johnson; he is in fact Ramirrez. He and Minnie dance and she invites him to come to her cabin later that evening.

Act II takes place in Minnie's cabin. She invites Dick Johnson to stay the night as it is snowing; just then shots are heard and he hides. Rance shows up and tells her that Johnson is Ramirrez; they leave and when Johnson reappears, she is furious with him. He leaves but is shot. He comes back to the cabin and Minnie hides him, but he is discovered and surrenders to Rance. Minnie wins her lover's freedom when she cheats in a poker game against the sheriff.

When Act III begins, Johnson has recovered from his wounds but he is recaptured by Rance. The miners are going to hang him, but Minnie rides in brandishing a pistol. She pleads for Johnson's life, and the miners release him. The two ride away to begin a new life together.

Can you not picture the reactions of the Italian audiences to this opera? They must have been astonished and not a little confused. Even today, it's a bit disconcerting to hear cowboys sing in Italian.

Barbara Herbert is an opera lover and host of KRCU's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: