Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La fanciulla del West (1910; rev. 1912)
Lucio Gallo, Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Keith Miller, Dwayne Croft, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Richard Bernstein
Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Nicola Luisotti
Sound formats: PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Picture format: 1080i high definition / 16:9
Regions: All regions
Languages: English (including menu language)
Subtitles: Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese
rec. HD transmission, 8 January 2011
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON BLU-RAY 0734808 [143:00 + 21:00 (extras)]
In commemoration of the centenary of the premiere of Puccini’s La fanciulla the Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new production of the work, an appropriate decision by the company that first staged the opera. The Met included this work in one of its HD transmissions to movie houses, a live performance by an international cast in the realistic production by Giancarlo de Monaco. This Blu-ray release preserves that memorable broadcast in a format that offers exceptional sound and visuals. The production also calls to mind the kind of realistic staging La fanciulla received at its premiere, with the result having an authentic ring to it, while also using modern lighting and other technical paraphernalia that combine to good effect in this performance.
The video takes the viewer immediately into the opera itself, with a keen eye for the features of the production. It is a Western in the best sense, with the sets conveying the sense of the American West of the late nineteenth century through the sets, props, and costumes. More than that, the staging makes the frontier come alive, with the barroom brawl of the first act blocked as if it were part of a filmed Western. The visual dimension also captures some of the intimate scenes of the second act, so that the solo numbers and duets are not lost on the large stage of the Met, but cinematically scaled to bring the viewer into the scenes. In the second act, the DVD seems like an opera film, rather than a film of a staged opera, a detail which translates well into the final act, with its rescue-opera conclusion allowing for a larger-than-life conclusion. In this sense the visual dimensions of this release convey the Met’s production well and also support Puccini’s score, which was, in turn, based on the composer’s response to Westerns, which he experienced through silent films.
As a Blu-ray release the disc includes both outstanding sound and also high-resolution graphics. The sound is also remarkable for the minimal audience noise and other ambient sounds, with a natural resonance possible through the sound formats on the disc. A similar integrity occurs with the visuals, which work well to capture the opera as film. In this regard, the close-ups and angle shots from the HD transmission give more details than audience members might see from their seats. This also demonstrates the scope productions can have at the Met, with its large stage and state-of-the-art technology. Such devices enhance the musicality at the core of the performance, an important feature of this release.
At the center of this production Deborah Voigt portrays Minnie, the Fanciulla of the title, with her characteristic aplomb. She embodies the role, and Voigt’s involvement with the role of Minnie is essential to the success of this performance. This is a signature role for Voigt and she excels not only in the solo parts given to her character, but also the various ensembles. Ultimately the chemistry between Minnie and Dick Johnson must be persuasive, since the dramatic pitch of the libretto relies on the singers playing their roles to the hilt. In this performance, Voigt and Giordano make their characters believable, and they bring the work to a satisfying conclusion.
As Dick Johnson, Marcelo Giordani is appealing vocally and dramatically. His interpretation gives a sense of his character’s inevitable love for Minnie, and this emerges well in the second act, where Giordani gives passionate voice to the familiar numbers in the work. He is also convincing in the final act, where the Minnie saves him as a modern-day deus ex machina who saves the erstwhile outlaw in order for the work to arrive at its satisfying, if not somewhat melodramatic conclusion.
Lucio Gallo offers a vivi portrayal of the lawman Jack Rance whose determination precipitates the relationship between Minnie and Dick. In this role Gallo’s sense of the text is useful in bringing out the dramatic elements in the libretto. Gallor’s delivery gives a sense of the text, which he supports well with his reading of the musical line, especially in the second act, where Rance must sustain his suspicion about Dick Johnson credibly.
The recording is laudable for its uniformly fine cast, which conveys a good sense of ensemble, as evident in both the first and final acts. In addition to the vocal qualities, the blocking is effective, as is the direction of the action scenes. It is rare to find the kinds of barroom brawls associated with westerns in opera, and this adds to the overall effect of the production. The stunts are part-and-parcel of film Westerns, and fit well into the Met’s production. Such effects are not required in the second act, where the staging contrastingly shifts to more intimate shots. Yet the final scene makes use of the expansive stage of the Met in evoking the street in a frontier settlement, with a sense of depth that brings the larger-than-life production to life.
At the core of all this is the solid musical direction of Nicola Luisotti. Luisotti’s tempos follow the score well as they also shape the line intelligibly. More than that, the balances are engineered well to allow the voices to emerge distinctly or, in instrumental passages, to shift attention to the accompaniment. The details of the sound are readably audible in the Blu-ray recording, which also gives a sense of immediacy of the video. With these elements in place, it is easy to recommend the disc, which offers an exemplary production of Puccini’s “western” opera. It is an opportunity to hear Deborah Voigt in one of her finest roles in the Met’s outstanding recent staging of this work.
James L Zychowicz
An opportunity to hear Voigt in one of her finest roles in the Met’s outstanding staging.