A highly recommended production of Puccini's most underrated opera
La Fanciulla Del West is not my favourite Puccini opera, I've always preferred Tosca and La Boheme over it as well as Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Manon Lescaut. However, it is better than its reputation, while it doesn't have as memorable arias as Puccini's other operas the score still shows some splendid craftsmanship with Minnie Dalla Mia Casa, Ch'Ella Mi Creda, the love duet and the entire second act. And while the story is rather slight and the characters while taxing to sing not as memorable as a Scarpia or Turandot there is depth and Act 2 is a masterstroke in terms of drama.
This production, like the 1992 Met, 1982 Covent Garden, 2011 Met and 1991 La Scala productions(I still need to see the one with Antoinetta Stella), is great and highly recommended. The sets show a lot of imagination and evokes the Golden West very well. The costumes are just as striking, nothing fancy but nothing distracting either. As for the DVD, the camera work is always focused and the sound is mostly excellent. I did have issues with the subtitles though(something I don't usually do but I was introducing my parents to the opera through this production and they know nothing about La Fanciulla Del West), often coming across as awkwardly in its translation(ie. Let's hang the Spaniard to death).
From a musical point of view, the orchestral playing is consistently wonderful, poetic in the more lyrical parts of the score(duet, Minnie Dalla Mia Casa) and the dramatic parts having urgency and fire(the scene between Minnie and Rance in Act 2 before and when he discovers Johnson's hiding place). Alberto Veronessi conducts with an assured hand, pacing the music with no questionable tempos, you can tell he knows Puccini and La Fanciulla Del West well.
Nothing to complain about the principal singing either. Of the miner cast, Massimo La Guardia stands out as a sonorous Nick. All three principals are splendid, you can really feel the passion coming from Daniela Dessi's Minnie who sings beautifully and her scenes with Fabio Armiliato are touching. As Dick Johnson/Ramarrez, Armiliato is a tenor to watch, with ringing tone perfect for Ch'Ella Mi Creda and a handsome and charming presence. You can really tell his Johnson is totally enamoured by Dessi's Minnie, and she for him. Lucio Gallo is a splendid Rance(for me one of the more interesting Rances since Milnes on the 1977 Mehta recording and his best role thus far), menacing, thoughtful and altogether thrilling, with a good, rich-toned if not always powerful voice.
All in all, highly recommended. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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