The Girl of the West, Opera by G. Puccini
After looking east to Japan for his inspiration for Madama Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini turned to the equally exotic Californian Gold Rush to write La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West). Based on David Belasco’s 1905 play, The Girl of the Golden West, which Puccini had seen while attending the New York premieres of Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut in the winter of 1907, La Fanciulla del West is considered by many to be a forerunner of the spaghetti western.
With the setting being the Wild West, this is a story in which the ensembles play as much a part in the drama as the lead characters. All the miners in town love Minnie, the owner of the local saloon, but she remains aloof; that is until a stranger walks into town, Dick Johnson. They quickly fall for one another, but Johnson is really a bandit called Ramerrez intent on robbing the tavern. The outlaw reveals his identity to Minnie who, despite her anger at his deceit, saves Johnson’s hide by winning a game of poker with Jack Rance, the town sheriff. When Rance and the other men catch Johnson again, will Minnie arrive in time to rescue him from being lynched by the mob?
First performed at the Metropolitan Opera on 10 December 1910, La Fanciulla del West, which starred Enrico Caruso in the role of Dick Johnson, was an immediate hit with audiences and went on to enjoy further success in England, Italy, Argentina and Australia within a year of its American debut. It was also the composer’s favourite opera up to that point, Puccini feeling that he had allied his music more effectively with the narrative than in any of his previous creations for the stage.
Now a work that shows a very different side of Puccini, one that embraces the modernism of Debussy, Strauss and Stravinsky, enjoys another stay at the Vienna State Opera.