Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Giacomo Puccini
  • In Italian with projected English translations
  • Approximate Running Time: 3 hours

Everyone loves a good Western!

A handsome outlaw in disguise! The sheriff in hot pursuit! And a garter-snapping, pistol-packing, poker-playing heroine who knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em to save the man she loves.

Puccini was fascinated by the American West, and California during the Gold Rush was perfect for the adventures of one of his most memorable leading ladies.

If you love Butterfly and Tosca, then you'll love Minnie, too — especially when she's sung by Deborah Voigt!

Savor blazing orchestral color, passionate arias, and "Lyric's production — which is good as gold." Chicago Sun-Times

Deborah Voigt: "The silvery sounds of her flights into the stratosphere are incomparable. She is a miracle." Berliner Morgenpost

And wow, what a tenor! Marcello Giordani is the Metropolitan Opera's Italian heartthrob of choice: "Ruggedly good-looking...sweeping fervor...and top notes that ring out for miles."
The New York Times

The Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, Production. 

Revival made possible by the Walter E. Heller Foundation in loving memory of Alyce DeCosta and M. James Termondt, the Mazza Foundation, and the Estate of Howard A. Stotler.

Voigt Golden West ST

Minnie
Deborah Voigt

Giordani Golden West ST

Dick Johnson (Ramerrez)
Marcello Giordani

Dick Johnson (Ramerrez)
Roy Cornelius Smith
Feb. 9, 12, 15

 

vratogna golden west st

Jack Rance
Marco Vratogna*

Cangelosi Golden West ST

Nick
David Cangelosi

Girl of the GOlden West - Daniel Sutin

Sonora
Daniel Sutin

Craig Irvin

Ashby
Craig Irvin 

Paul Corona

Jake Wallace
Paul Corona

Rene Barbera

Harry
René Barbera

James Kryshak

Joe
James Kryshak

David Portillo

Trin
David Portillo 

Corey Crider

Larkens
Corey Crider

Philip Kraus

Sid
Philip Kraus

Paul La Rosa

Handsome
Paul La Rosa 

Paul Scholten

Happy
Paul Scholten

Katherine Lerner

Wowkle
Katherine Lerner 

 


Also Featuring
Evan Boyer
Sam Handley

 

Girl of the Golden West - Sir Andrew Davis

Conductor
Sir Andrew Davis

Girl of the Golden West - Harold Prince


Original Production
Harold Prince

Girl of the Golden West - Vincent Liotta

Director
Vincent Liotta

 


Original Set Designer
Eugene Lee

 


Original Costume Designer
Franne Lee

 


New Scenery and Costumes
Scott Marr

 


Lighting Designer
Jason Brown

 


Chorus Master
Donald Nally

 

*Lyric Debut

Golden West Article

In 1890, Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling Wild West troupe performed throughout Europe. A collection of sharpshooters, cowboys with lassos, and Indians armed with bows and arrows, the Wild West show was equal parts circus, rodeo, and western pageant. Cody – a former buffalo hunter, cavalry scout, and genuine frontier hero – was a born showman, and his show was the first taste of the American West for many Europeans.

At one performance in Italy, a well-dressed man in his early 30s watched intently and was so impressed that he wrote to his brother in South America, “With a large number of Indians and buffalos, they do splendid sharpshooting and recreate authentic scenes of the frontier.”

The writer of those words was 31-year-old Giacomo Puccini, and more than likely, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West extravaganza was his introduction to this exotic culture. Puccini had yet to write Manon Lescaut (1893), La bohème (1896), and Madama Butterfly (1904). His next opera, La fanciulla del West ( The Girl of the Golden West ), wouldn’t arrive until 1910. Fanciulla was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and was the first world premiere ever presented by that company. The original production starred Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson and Emmy Destinn as Minnie. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Puccini himself was present for the rehearsals and its opening-night performance.

Puccini had been blessed with a phenomenal ability to craft beautiful melodies, and thanks to his libretti, he populated his operas with compelling and original heroines. One such heroine was Minnie in Fanciulla. “The greatest Doris Day character in opera…the virgin den mother of a California mining camp, circa 1849,” was how Chicago Sun-Times music critic Robert C. Marsh characterized her in his review of Lyric’s previous Fanciulla production (1990).

Puccini found Minnie in a play by American playwright David Belasco, whose father came west for the California Gold Rush. Among Belasco’s many works was Madame Butterfly, a story that Puccini and librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa crafted into Madama Butterfly. After that opera premiered, Puccini reappraised his place in music. He said that he had had enough of “BohèmeButterfly, and company” and wanted to move in a new direction: “People are sick of my sugary music.” To move on he needed a libretto that would support such a departure. Between 1904 and 1907 he considered numerous stories and finally chose The Girl of the Golden West after seeing it staged during his 1907 visit to New York.

The story centers around Minnie, who owns the Polka Saloon and who’s adored by the miners who drink there (during the Gold Rush, California’s female population was only eight percent – every woman was adored!). A stranger enters and says he’s Dick Johnson from Sacramento, but he’s really the outlaw Ramerrez. He and Minnie quickly fall in love.

When he goes to her cabin for supper, a posse follows him. Johnson is shot when he leaves. He staggers back to the cabin and Minnie hides him in the loft. The sheriff finds him but Minnie makes the sheriff an offer: If she beats him at poker, he’s to let Johnson go; if the sheriff wins, Minnie will be the lawman’s bride.

Minnie cheats and wins, but later Johnson is captured again. This time the sheriff orders the miners to hang him. Just before hanging, Minnie convinces the miners that they owe her too much to kill the man she loves. She asks them to forgive him, and they do. Then it’s “Happy Trails” for Minnie and Johnson, who ride off to start a new life together.

“The orchestral writing is the most remarkable of any Puccini score,” says Sir Andrew Davis, who will conduct all performances of Fanciulla. “The fact that Puccini wrote such great tunes often blinds people to the fact that he was one of the great orchestrators. People often say that in Wagner operas, the orchestra is constantly telling you what’s happening on stage, but Puccini does the same thing!”

At Lyric, Fanciulla has been offered in 1956, 1978, and 1990-91. Broadway’s Harold Prince, who also staged Madama Butterfly and Candide here, originally directed the current production in 1978. The original set designer was Eugene Lee and his wife Franne designed the costumes. The 2010-11 Fanciulla has Vincent Liotta directing (he remounted Prince’s Madama Butterfly here in 2008-09), and additional scenery and costumes are designed by Lyric’s production designer Scott Marr.

After the last notes of the 1910 premiere performance faded, the New York audience clapped, stomped, shouted, whistled and carries on for 55 curtain calls, of which 30 were for Puccini. At two in the morning, Puccini, his son Antonio, Puccini’s publisher Tito Ricordi, and Toscanini went to an Italian restaurant to celebrate. Puccini did not leave his bed until 4 p.m. the following afternoon. “A success!” is what he wrote to a friend in Italy. “My very best opera.”

 


Golden West article 2

Soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Marcello Giordani are singing their first Fanciullas this year, and both neatly fit their roles. Voigt is a down-home, golden-haired gal who grew up in California (and Chicago). She’s feisty, flirtatious, highly principled, and radiant – just like Minnie. Giordani is dark and handsome, with a touch of danger and mystery – just like Ramerrez, a.k.a. Dick Johnson. The stars will reunite at the Metropolitan Opera for a 100 th -anniversary  Fanciulla  in December before proceeding to Lyric. (Their costar, Italian baritone Marco Vratogna, plays Sheriff Jack Rance in his Lyric debut).

Comparing Minnie to Tosca and her Wagner and Strauss roles, Voigt notes, “What the others have a good deal of, which Minnie doesn’t, is time. She doesn’t have long, flowing vocal lines, or even pauses, which help the character to convey emotions. Minnie has to sing through or over a lot of stage activity. Puccini was exploring a more drama-and-action-oriented style of composition, which he delved into orchestrally and vocally with  Fanciulla.” She finds the opera and her character “particularly appealing because the story serves up a uniquely American female character. And it’s very ‘Italianate,’ so the combination is fun, too.” Voigt likes that Minnie emulates the happy, loving atmosphere of her parents’ inn: “Don’t most of us try to recreate whatever made us happy as children? She loves the miners like brothers, teaches them the Bible, helps them learn to read and write, and shows them compassion. But don’t forget: her primary goal is to find the right man. She is willing to bide her time until the right one comes along.”

“Johnson is a wonderfully rich character,” says Giordani. “His music has a different structure and  tinta  (dramatic flavor) than Puccini’s other tenors. There are many conversational exchanges, but with beautiful, lyric expressions throughout. We all like Rodolfo, Des Grieux, and Cavaradossi right away and have no reason to change our opinion. (Pinkerton is another matter!) Johnson is more complex. He’s not happy with his life as a bandit; he aspires to a better life. With this chance encounter with Minnie, he finds hope and love that he never expected to find, and Minnie goes through a similar transformation. Minnie eventually shows she forgives him by saving him at the gallows, and I think the audience forgives him as well.” Giordani looks forward to collaborating with Voigt, with whom he’s sung nine  Ballo s at the Met. “She is a wonderful colleague, a very expressive singer, without a doubt one of America’s great sopranos.”

Clearly, they’ll be making beautiful music together at Lyric, for which audiences can be grateful.

 

On the Record

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these recorded performances. 

 

On CD

Tebaldi, Del Monaco, MacNeil; Accademia di Santa Cecilia, cond. Capuana (Decca)

Nilsson, Gibin, Mongelli; La Scala, cond. Matačič (EMI)

Olivero, Ferraro, Guelfi; Teatro La Fenice, cond. De Fabritiis (Bel Canto Society)

Pre-1960

Steber, Del Monaco, Guelfi; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, cond. Mitropoulos (Regis)

Frazzoni, Corelli, Gobbi; La Scala, cond. Votto (Opera d’Oro)

 

Although Covent Garden’s  marvelous DG performance under Mehta is no longer available, there are five other viable choices out there at the moment. Which one you pick will depend on two factors: your preference as regards the soprano (no Fanciulla can succeed without a memorable Minnie), and whether you can accept live-performance sound of a certain age.

Decca’s 1958 studio recording wears its age very well. Except for Cornell MacNeil (American, yes, but completely authentic in his style), all the singers are Italian, as are the conductor and orchestra. That fact goes a long way in this opera; it contains so much music written in Puccini’s tricky conversational style, which is best managed by performers boasting the native instinct for it. Renata Tebaldi is ultra-feminine and warm-hearted as Minnie, occasionally hard-toned at the very top but otherwise singing gloriously. She has the charm one would expect of her, as well as much intensity, in a role she didn’t sing onstage until several years after this recording was made. Her clarity of enunciation is a constant joy. Tebaldi’s regular tenor partner at Decca, Mario del Monaco, is on his best musical behavior. He’s also thrilling at the climaxes, as usual, and his brazen, super-confident style actually suits the character. All the supporting singers contribute strongly, and the orchestra under a solid leader, Franco Capuana, plays through this rewarding score with surging excitement.     

The other available studio performance, also from 1958, was, in fact, planned for Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, and Tito Gobbi, all of whom pulled out. EMI then turned to Birgit Nilsson, who quickly learned the role for the recording (she never sang it onstage). Vocally it holds no terrors for her at all, and any fans of her celebrated Turandot will want to hear her as a Puccini heroine who could hardly offer a greater contrast in temperament. Her vocal acting is intelligent, often affecting, without going the extra mile that one hears in her rivals’ portrayals. Her tenor, João Gibin, is gentler and more loving than Corelli and del Monaco, but hardly their equal in vocal security. Another little-remembered singer, Andrea Mongelli, is an above-average Rance, effortful at the top, and not leaving his stamp on the part. The forces of La Scala are predictably idiomatic under the direction of one of the most successful foreign conductors to find favor in Italy at the time, Lovro von Matačič.

The three live performances are essential because of their leading ladies. In her middle range Magda Olivero (Venice, 1966) hasn’t the lusciousness of Eleanor Steber (Florence, 1954), but she thrills at the top and in her soft singing, while creating an exquisitely vulnerable characterization. Steber, who would be Lyric’s first Minnie two years after her Florence performance, is astoundingly fearless in this exhausting role. The American diva’s performance must surely have stood her audience on its ear. No one — I repeat, no one — matches her in the exultant cries of “È mio!” that close Act Two. As for the tenors: Now nearly forgotten is Pier Miranda Ferraro, who partners Olivero and is the genuine article — a real Italian spinto tenor. Del Monaco is even finer when heard live in 1954 rather than in the studio. Common to both Florence and Venice is the mighty Giangiacomo Guelfi, whose massive voice and rough-hewn delivery are not unsuited to Jack Rance.

In a famous 1956 revival at La Scala the Italian soprano Gigliola Frazzoni gives the performance of her life. If her vocal technique is the chanciest of all these ladies, she boasts a classic timbre and consuming dramatic involvement. Now we get to hear the two legendary artists lost to EMI’s performance: Tito Gobbi is a snarling Rance, Franco Corelli an unfailingly spectacular Johnson. The conductors of these three performances are all exceptionally distinguished, but the palm goes to the maestro in the Florence performance, the legendary Dimitri Mitropoulos.


On DVD

Daniels, Domingo, Milnes; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Slatkin, dir. G.C. Del Monaco (DG)

Neblett, Domingo, Carroli; Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, cond. Santi, dir. Faggioni (Kultur)

Stella, Limarilli, Colzani; NHK Symphony Orchestra, cond. de Fabritiis (VAI – Black-and-White)

 

To see an excellently conceived  production on DVD of this opera, done with complete conviction by all concerned, I would first suggest the Met’s thrilling production with the trio of Barbara Daniels, Plácido Domingo, and Sherrill Milnes. These artists give themselves wholeheartedly to the work; the soprano’s vitality, the tenor’s panache and sex appeal, and baritone’s smoldering passion — these are all quite irresistible. They three are surrounded by a worthy supporting cast, and the work is directed by Mario Del Monaco’s son, Gian Carlo, with quite extraordinary atmosphere and a wealth of detail. It’s also thrilling to hear the Metropolitan Opera players really go to town in Puccini’s incomparable orchestration.

Again in gleaming voice, and at his handsomest and most charismatic, Domingo also performs in the Covent Garden production, where he’s paired with the marvelous Carol Neblett,  who was born to play and sing Minnie — as with the Met’s Daniels, this is an immensely endearing portrayal. Silvano Carroli really throws himself into the role of Rance, and if some of his acting seems exaggerated in closeup and some of his vocalism rather inelegant, he’s still a major asset. The opera is performed in totally realistic, wonderfully lived-in sets by Ken Adam, and the careful stage direction by Piero Faggioni is a complete success. The male ensemble includes some of the most impressive regulars on the Covent Garden roster of a quarter-century ago, all are under the leadership of an expert Puccinian, Nello Santi.

During the early 1960s many operas were mounted in Tokyo with distinguished Italian singers, who performed with a Japanese chorus and orchestra. The production values in the Fanciulla (shot in black-and-white) are very old-fashioned indeed and the cast is sub-par, with one major exception, the soprano Antonietta Stella. She is reason enough to acquire the performance — a Minnie who acts with total sincerity and believability. A genuine Italian spinto soprano, Stella soars on top, sings with considerable substance and color in the rest of her range, and presents her characterization in a memorablywarm, direct, totally unaffected style.

Sir Andrew Davis Previews

Gold Rush fever is running high, and every miner in camp hopes to claim the heart of Minnie — the pistol-packing, poker-playing proprietress of the Polka Saloon. Even Sheriff Rance is in hot pursuit, but Minnie's in love with a tall dark stranger, who's really the notorious bank robber Ramerrez in disguise!

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Backstage at Lyric #109

January 21, 2011

Golden West DS ArtistsSagebrush verismo! Rough-and tumble characters, soaring arias, and a harmonically sumptuous score in the original spaghetti Western! Deborah Voigt (Minnie), Marcello Giordani (Dick Johnson), and conductor Sir Andrew Davis hitch up the buckboard and head west for a look at this most adventuresome addition to the Puccini oeuvre.

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A STAR YOU SHOULD KNOW

May 26, 2010

Giordani Tenor Marcello Giordani, one of Italy's greatest stars and a huge favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, makes his long-awaited return to Lyric as Dick Johnson in The Girl of the Golden West.

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The Girl of the Golden West Commentary

The Girl of the Golden West
By Giacomo Puccini

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

 

The Girl of the Golden West Commentary

The Girl of the Golden West
By Giacomo Puccini

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

 

The Girl of the Golden West Commentary

The Girl of the Golden West
By Giacomo Puccini

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.

 

The Girl of the Golden West Commentary

The Girl of the Golden West
By Giacomo Puccini

Commentary by Sir Andrew Davis
in collaboration with Nicholas Ivor Martin, Director of Operations

Lyric Opera
Commentaries on CD
2010-2011

2010 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by WFMT, Chicago. Mark Travis, Producer.