Having seen the premiere of
this production on 17 December 2011 - a
couple of months before the video filming - I was naturally keen to see
in home cinema format. My wife even more so since she had to watch the
premiere on a 17” TV-set in execrable sound in the lobby, due to
terrible coughing, the after-effect of pneumonia we both contracted on
visit to New York earlier in the autumn. Revisiting it in
‘compact’ format gave me no reason to revise my positive
reaction back in 2011.
Though La fanciulla del West
literally means ‘The
from the West’ it has long been known as ‘Flickan från
Vilda Västern’ (The Girl from the Wild West) in Sweden. Last time
it was seen in Stockholm was, incidentally, in the mid-1930s when Jussi
Björling was Dick Johnson. In English it has been entitled ‘The
Girl from the Golden West’ which was the title of David
Belasco’s play, upon which Guelfo
and Carlo Zangarini based their
Italian libretto for Puccini.
Set at a mining camp at the foot of the Cloudy Mountains in
California in mid-19th
century - the most
imaginable - the Italian language jars with the situations and the
environment. The miners’ insistent shouts of Hello!
opening scene sound sorely misplaced. They do however provide local
just as Consul Sharpless and Lieutenant Pinkerton show their origins in
(another play by Belasco),
drinking whisky not sake
when they meet.
‘The opening [of this La fanciulla del West
stunning: during the orchestral prelude - one of the best pieces of
music imaginable - a black and white Hollywood style movie introduction
shown on a screen, very 1930s with all the details about director and
actors. Minnie on horseback is seen riding through a Wild West
she sets off and starts running towards the camera and - BANG! she
through the screen, revolvers in hands. Nina Stemme is with us. No
there were applause!’ Thus I wrote in my review of the premiere. I
still regard this as a superbly brilliant start but I have to admit
effect wasn’t as overwhelming on the small screen as I had hoped.
Possibly on one of those giant screens that fill half the living-room
some apartments it would have had the intended effect and definitely, I
believe, at a HD-relay in a movie theatre. My wife appreciated it
nevertheless. There were some other things that worked well in the
but left a somewhat muddled impression on the screen: in particular the
projections in the background, with close-ups of the action that was
place in the foreground. Not that they added much to the drama in the
house either but they were more comprehensible. My colleague Paul
Godfrey had some misgivings about the sets, in particular in the final
which ‘is not played in a forest but in the empty saloon of the first
act. The snare, where Johnson is supposed to be hanged, is lowered
hole in the ceiling. This works, even though Rance’s words that
Johnson will be highest in the forest seem a little off the mark.’ as
I wrote in my review. Whether this is artistic freedom or just plain
inability to let things alone, is another matter.
Musically the level is extremely high. Pier Giorgio Morandi has been
a frequent guest in Stockholm, mostly in Italian repertoire. He knows
forces there like the back of his hand and he knows where to hold back
where to move forward for maximum dramatic effect. La
is not Puccini’s best known opera, maybe not even his
even though Puccini himself held this work in particular high esteem.
takes time to warm up - as do most of his operas - but it is possibly
most colourful and technically most advanced. Also there are lots of
felicities in this score that take some time to discover.
Dick Johnson’s Ch’ella mi creda
in the last act
is the only really well known number. Even this aria is so integrated
the whole entity that the tenor never gets any credit in the shape of
applause. This part, as well as those of Jack Rance and Minnie, need
singing actors, and that is what they get here.
Nina Stemme is acclaimed as the greatest Wagner soprano of her
generation. Thus it is easy to forget that earlier on she sang mostly
Italian repertoire. Minnie is also the toughest soprano among the
heroines. Well, Turandot is a hell of a part but Minnie’s is longer.
Stemme is superb in the role: ‘She is a splendid actor and even though
Puccini was mean enough not to give Minnie a real aria, she gets plenty
opportunities to expose her brilliant dramatic voice. Still it is her
sensitive handling of the more intimate scenes that impresses most of
The Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has rapidly risen to the top
layer of tenors in the Italian repertoire. Since I first heard him in
in 2005 his voice has darkened slightly and filled out. He is now one
leading Otellos in the world. He has preserved his beauty of tone and
ease of delivery. His is a marvellously nuanced reading. As an actor he
bit stiff and unwieldy and this is more obvious when exposed in
Zoran Todorovich from Amsterdam 2009, with Eva-Maria Westbroek and
Gallo, (Opus Arte OA1039 D) is a more dynamic personality and that DVD
wholly admirable as well.
Jack Rance is here sung by John Lundgren, a Swedish baritone mainly
active in Denmark. His power and black venom made him stand out as a
formidable sheriff. He is actually in the same league as Juha Uusitalo;
Uusitalo was a tremendous Rance in Helsinki some years ago.
The long list of minor characters is cast from strength and I just
want to single out Niklas Björling Rygert, the eminent character tenor,
who is an eminent Nick. John Erik Eleby’s beautifully sung Jake
Wallace, portrayed as Charlie Chaplin. It’s an absurd anachronism but
after all, in the Amsterdam production mentioned above, Jake Wallace
Elvis Presley lookalike.
In spite of some misgivings from Paul Corfield Godfrey and myself,
this is a great production. The singing is glorious and it now goes to
top of the list of available DVD versions of La fanciulla.
Previous review: Paul