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Puccini, La Fanciulla del West: Soloists, Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla. Coro de la Asociación de Amigos de la Maestranza y Coro Intermezzo. Conductor: Pedro Halffter. Teatro de la Maestranza de Sevilla. 24 & 25. 3.2009 (JMI)

Production: Opera di Roma.


Director: Giancarlo Del Monaco.
Sets and costumes: Giancarlo Del Monaco.
Lighting: Wolfgang Von Zoubek.


Minnie: Daniela Dessì/Janice Baird.
Dick Johnson: Fabio Armiliato/Marco Berti.
Jack Rance: Silvano Carroli/Claudio Sgura.
Nick: Vicente Ombuena.
Ashby: Pavel Kudinov.
Sonora: Manel Esteve.
Trin: Jon Plazaola.
Sid: Radoslaw Wielgus.
Bello: Juan José Moreno.
Harry: Mario Alves.
Joe: Manuel De Diego.
Happy: José Manuel Díaz.
Larkens: Fernando Latorre.
Billy: Alberto Feria.
Wowkle: Giovanna Lanza.
Jake Wallace: Carlos Carzoglio.
José Castro: Eduardo Hernández.
Postillón: Víctor Sordo.

La Fanciulla del West is the least performed of Puccini operas, with the exception of his two youthful operas Le Villi and Edgar. Every opera house is, of course, aware that the two composers with the biggest box office draw are Verdi and Puccini, but La Fanciulla del West, despite its spectacular success at the premiere at the New York Metropolitan, has not equalled the popularity of the other mature works. Even La Rondine after being despised for many years, is now more successful than La Fanciulla – especially now that the star sopranos have decided to sing Magda. As an example of its lack of popularity, during the last 25 years only once has this opera been performed in Spain, and that took place in Palma de Majorca in 2005. The fact is that La Fanciulla del West is a quite different opera among Puccini’s works. It is often said that the score lacks the inspiration of his other operas, and the lack of great arias has made it seem less accessible to the public.

However, to those more familiar with opera,
La Fanciulla del West offers a score full of detail and shade that you cannot find in his other works.  Somehow, it seems that Debussy and his Pelleas was present in Puccini’s mind, particularly in the first two acts. There are no arias other than the famous “Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano” of Act III and it seems to me that, from a dramatic perspective, this can be considered as somewhat artificial. Act I gives us Puccini’s most revolutionary music, with an exceptional union of music and text. Act II is a true example of music drama, whereas act III is more in line with the Italian operatic tradition.

The production by Giancarlo Del Monaco was premiered in Rome a year ago now. The stage sets are gorgeous and magnificently suited to the demands of the libretto. Mr Del Monaco also ensures that the costumes are in keeping with the period, the place and the sets. In fact, it is like watching a western movie, but on stage. Act I is a recreation of a Saloon (La Polka) from the California gold rush. Act II takes place in Minnie’s home in the mountains, showing not only the interior of the hut, but a beautiful exterior scene where a snow storm takes place, as written in the libretto. In Act III we are in the Western village, shown as a kind of phantasmagorical city. To the spectacular sets we have to add great lighting work, with spectacular moments. Del Monaco has been always an outstanding stage director and in this opera he is at his best.

Pedro Halffter, musical director of this theatre, must have seen the many musical possibilities that this opera offers to a conductor who is at his best with modern music, and La Fanciulla is truly modern. His reading was very good, from the unusual Puccini music of first act to the luminous final act. This conductor has always been at his best when he identifies with the score with which he is working and this is what happened in this case. His orchestra gave one of their best performances in a long time.

La Fanciulla herself (Minnie) was Daniela Dessì, who gave a convincing interpretation full of musicality and nuances. Her belcanto background is always present in her singing, although more debatable is her suitability to the vocal demands of the role. Her top register has become rather too dry, but her way of singing and the beauty of her middle register more than compensates for it. In the alternative cast the new Minnie was American soprano Janice Baird, better known for her Wagner and Strauss interpretations. She proved again that she is an important singing actress. She was a very convincing Minnie on stage, with a robust and secure top register while, sadly, she is becoming weak in her lower registers.

Dick Johnson (or the outlaw Ramerrez, as he is otherwise known) had two very interesting interpreters in Fabio Armiliato and Marco Berti. Both of them gave outstanding performances and it would be difficult to find two interpreters like them. Marco Berti has given the best interpretation that I have heard from him, and was superior by far to his performance of Don José in Bilbao last month. His voice offers an outstanding squillo. Armiliato shone in the role, although his top notes were not as bright as usual during the second act, but recovering fully for the big final act aria.

Silvano Carroli at 70 is one of the most veteran singers around. He is a great actor, but his voice is not up to the demands of the role of Rance. Claudio Sgura has an interesting voice, with serious problems with projection, to the point of becoming almost inaudible at the most dramatic moments. As an interpreter Carroli is far superior to his younger colleague.

There was a full house for both performances. At the final curtain Dessi, Baird, Berti and Armiliato were loudly cheered. Pedro Halffter, the Orchestra and Chorus also received a very warm reception.

José M Irurzun

Pictures -  courtesy of
Teatro de la Maestranza de Sevilla

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