This is the least popular of Puccini's eight mature operas. I had not previously seen it before I was given the DVD for Christmas. This production is from the Met, where the opera was premiered in 1910. Minnie, the Girl of the Golden West is sung by soprano Barbara Daniels. Placido Domingo is Dick Johnson her lover, alias the bandit Ramerres. Sherrill Milnes is Jack Rance, the sheriff who also loves Minnie.
Cowboys singing in Italian are, perhaps, a little hard to take. This may be an irrational prejudice: we are quite happy with French, Chinese and Japanese characters singing in Italian in Puccini's other operas. I suppose it is even possible that there were communities of Italian miners in the American West. These miners are very Italian though, they sing about missing their mammas. One miner has a sorrowful song whose words translate as: "After so long, will my dog recognise me "
Barbara Daniels' Minnie is the only woman in town. When not running the saloon and the casino she gives the miners reading lessons and bible instruction. This is where I began to suspect that Puccini had made a mistake in basing the opera on another one of David Belasco's dud plays, The heartrending music in Madama Butterfly takes our mind off the essential naffness of the story. In the Golden Girl, Puccini gives us no big tunes or show-stopping moments so the implausibility of the plot and characters is all too clear. The long first act, set in the bar of the Polka Saloon is an ensemble piece that looks back to the first two acts of La Boheme and hints of what is to come in Gianni Schicchi but La Fanciulla has none of the brilliance of these two pieces.
This is one Minnie that has been around the block a few times but when Dick kisses her she sings: "You have taken my first kiss " Still, it all ends happily when the kind-hearted miners forgive Dick his banditry and he and Minnie are allowed to walk away together into the sunset. I think this left most of the Met audience as unmoved as it left me. With nothing worth clapping, they fell back on their usual ploy and applauded the scenery.
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