La Fanciulla Del West

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La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinini (it) and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belasco. Fanciulla followed Madama Butterfly, which was also based on a Belasco play. The opera has fewer of the show-stopping highlights that are characteristic of other Puccini works, but is admired for its impressive orchestration and for a score that is more melodically integrated than is typical of his previous work. Fanciulla displays influences from composers Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, without being in any way imitative. Similarities between the libretto and the work of Richard Wagner have also been found, though some attribute this more to the original plot of the play, and have asserted that the opera remains quintessentially Italian.

La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the 1905 play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belasco. Fanciulla followed Madama Butterfly, which was also based on a Belasco play. The opera has fewer of the. La fanciulla del West (The girl of the golden West) by Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924; Zangarini, Carlo. Fanciulla del West; Civinini, G. (Guelfo), 1873-1954. Fanciulla del West; Belasco, David, 1853-1931. Girl of the golden West. Mar 06, 2017 La fanciulla del West, Act 1 In 1850s California at the base of the Cloudy Mountains, gold miners make their way into the Polka Saloon after a hard day’s work. As they drink and sing, traveling minstrel, Jake Wallace enters the saloon and entertains the miners with a song of his own.

The opera had a successful and highly-publicised première at the Met in 1910. Nevertheless, while Puccini deemed it one of his greatest works, La fanciulla del West has become a less popular opera within the composer’s repertoire, drawing a mixed public reception overall. Despite the plot being a source of significant criticism, the majority of academics and musicians agree in calling it a magnum opus, particularly lauding its craftmanship. Conductor Arturo Toscanini called the opera a “great symphonic poem”.

Performance history

La fanciulla del West was commissioned by, and first performed at, the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 10 December 1910 with Met stars Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn for whom Puccini created the leading roles of Dick Johnson and Minnie. However, after Puccini saw Gilda dalla Rizza as Minnie at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in 1921, he remarked, “At last I have seen my true Fanciulla.” Also in the cast was Pasquale Amato as Jack Rance. The Met’s music director Arturo Toscanini conducted. This was the first world premiere of an opera at the Met, and it was initially well received in the United States. However, it was never quite as popular in Europe, except perhaps in Germany. There it enjoyed a triumphant premiere at the Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin (now known as the Deutsche Oper) in March 1913, under the musical direction of Ignatz Waghalter.

Other premieres took place in London on 29 May 1911 at Covent Garden Theatre; in Rome on 12 June 1911 at the Teatro Costanzi; at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires on 25 July 1911; and in Melbourne on 11 June 1912 at Her Majesty’s Theatre.


It is presented from time to time, but is not performed nearly as often as Puccini’s other mature operas. The Metropolitan Opera presented the work in its 2010–11 season to mark the work’s 100th anniversary.


RoleVoice typePremiere cast, 10 December 1910 (Conductor: Arturo Toscanini)
MinniesopranoEmmy Destinn
Dick Johnson alias Ramerrez, bandittenorEnrico Caruso
Jack Rance, sheriffbaritonePasquale Amato
Nick, bartender at the Polka saloontenorAlbert Reiss
Ashby, Wells Fargo agentbassAdamo Didur
Sonora,[N 1]minerbaritoneDinh Gilly
Trin, minertenorAngelo Badà
Sid, minerbaritoneGiulio Rossi (ca)
Bello,[N 2]minerbaritoneVincenzo Reschiglian
Harry, minertenorPietro Audisio
Joe, minertenorGlenn Hall
Happy, minerbaritoneAntonio Pini-Corsi
Jim Larkens, minerbassBernard Bégué
Billy Jackrabbit, a Red IndianbassGeorges Bourgeois
Wowkle, his squawmezzo-sopranoMarie Mattfeld
Jake Wallace, a traveling camp minstrelbaritoneAndrés de Segurola
José Castro, a mestizo “greaser”, from Ramirez’ bandbassEdoardo Missiano
The Pony Express ridertenorLamberto Belleri
Men of the camp and boys of the ridge
  1. ^ See also Sonora, Mexico, and List of films shot in Sonora, California
  2. ^ Bello is often named Handsome in productions in English speaking countries


Time:1849 to 1850.
Place: A mining camp at the foot of the Cloudy Mountains, California.

Act 1

Inside the Polka Saloon

A group of Gold Rush miners enter the “Polka” saloon after a day working at the mine (“Hello! Hello! Alla ‘Polka'”). After a song by traveling minstrel Jake Wallace (“Che faranno i vecchi miei”), one of the miners, Jim Larkens, is homesick and the miners collect enough money for his fare home (“Jim, perchè piangi?”).

A group of miners playing cards discover that Sid is cheating and want to attack him. Sheriff Jack Rance quiets the fight and pins two cards to Sid’s jacket, as a sign of a cheater.

A Wells Fargo agent, Ashby, enters and announces that he is chasing the bandit Ramerrez and his gang of Mexicans. Rance toasts Minnie, the girl who owns the saloon, as his future wife, which makes Sonora jealous. The two men begin to fight. Rance draws his revolver but at that moment, a shot rings out and Minnie stands next to the bar with a rifle in her hands (“Hello, Minnie!”). She gives the miners a reading lesson from the Bible (“Dove eravamo?”).

The Pony Express rider arrives (“La posta!”) and delivers a telegram from Nina Micheltorena, offering to reveal Ramerrez’s hideout. The sheriff tells Minnie that he loves her, but Minnie puts him off as she is waiting for the right man (“Ti voglio bene, Minnie”).

A stranger enters the saloon and asks for a whisky and water. He introduces himself as Dick Johnson from Sacramento, whom Minnie had met earlier. Johnson invites Minnie to dance with him and she accepts. Angrily, Rance watches them.

Ashby returns with the captured Ramerrez gang member, Castro. Upon seeing his leader, Johnson, in the saloon, Castro agrees to lead Rance, Ashby and the miners in a search for Ramerrez, and the group then follows him on a false trail and in what turns out to be a wild goose chase. But before Castro leaves, he whispers to Johnson that somebody will whistle and Johnson must reply to confirm that the place is clear. A whistle is heard, but Johnson fails to reply.

Minnie shows Johnson the keg of gold that she and the miners take turns to guard at night and Johnson reassures her that the gold will be safe there. Before he leaves the saloon, he promises to visit her at her cabin. They confess their love for each other. Minnie begins to cry, and Johnson comforts her before he leaves.

Act 2

Minnie’s dwelling, later that evening

Wowkle, a Native American woman who is Minnie’s servant, her lover Billy Jackrabbit and their baby are present as Minnie enters, wanting to get ready for Johnson’s visit. Johnson enters Minnie’s cabin and she tells him all about her life. It begins to snow. They kiss and Minnie asks him to stay till morning. He denies knowing Nina Micheltorena. As Johnson hides, a posse enters looking for Ramerrez and reveal to Minnie that Johnson is the bandit Ramerrez himself. Angry, she orders Johnson to leave. After he leaves, Minnie hears a gunshot and she knows Johnson has been shot. Johnson staggers in and collapses, Minnie helps him by hiding him up in the loft. Rance enters Minnie’s cabin looking for the bandit and is about to give up searching for Johnson when drops of blood fall on his hand. Rance forces Johnson to climb down. Minnie desperately makes Rance an offer: if she beats him at poker, he must let Johnson go free; if Rance wins, she will marry him. Hiding some cards in her stockings, Minnie cheats and wins. Rance honors the deal and Minnie throws herself on the unconscious Johnson on the floor.

Act 3

In the Great Californian Forest at dawn, sometime later

Johnson is again on the run from Ashby and the miners. Nick and Rance are discussing Johnson and wonder what Minnie sees in him when Ashby arrives in triumph: Johnson has been captured. Rance and the miners all want Johnson to be hanged. Johnson accepts the sentence and only asks the miners not to tell Minnie about his capture and his fate (“Ch’ella mi creda”). Minnie arrives, armed with a pistol, just before the execution and throws herself in front of Johnson to protect him. While Rance tries to proceed, she convinces the miners that they owe her too much to kill the man she loves, and asks them to forgive him (“Ah! Ah! E Minnie!”). One by one, the miners yield to her plea (“E anche tu lo vorrai, Joe”). Rance is not happy but finally he too gives in. Sonora unties Johnson and sets him free. The miners bid Minnie farewell (“Le tue parole sono di Dio”). Minnie and Johnson leave California to start a new life together.

Other influences

The melody for Jake Wallace’s song near the beginning of the first act is derived from two songs in a collection of Zuni melodies “recorded and harmonized” by ethnomusicologist Carlos Troyer, published in 1909. Puccini had obtained this publication in an effort to find authentic Native American music for Wowkle, but he ended up using it for Jake Wallace instead. (Several books about Puccini repeat Mosco Carner’s claim that the song is based on Stephen Foster’s “Old Dog Tray”; it is not.)[12]

A climactic phrase sung by Johnson, “Quello che tacete”, near the end of the first act, bears a strong resemblance to a similar phrase in the Phantom’s song, “The Music of the Night”, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera. Some listeners have cited this as evidence that Webber copied from Puccini. Following the success of Phantom, the Puccini estate filed suit against Webber accusing him of plagiarism, but the suit was settled out of court and details were not released to the public.[13][14]

The opera was made into a film in 1915 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille), in 1923 (directed by Edwin Carewe), in 1930 (directed by John Francis Dillon, lost), and *in 1938 (directed by Robert Z. Leonard).

  • (This last was not a film of the Puccini opera, but of the original play by David Belasco, with songs by Sigmund Romberg, sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.)

With the current La Scalaproduction of Puccini’s La fanciulla del WestRobert Carsen reminds us where opera comes from and what it originally dealt with: myth. Not of course classical myth of late-Renaissance Florentine earliest operas, but rather the modern myth Puccini chose after Madama Butterfly to experiment a further path in the hey-day of his success: the myth of the Golden West – as the title of David Belasco’s original play calls it. A myth which has been able to fuel a century-long tradition especially in cinema. Although the genre is far from being over, its tradition might already be historicized, addressed to as a myth of its own and contemplated as a distant – and therefore utterly fascinating – object. This is the kind of operation the Canadian director offers La Scala’s familiar audience: a powerful retrospective on the double myth of Golden West (the historical one and its representation through the movies) which turns into an insightful retrospective on the entire 20th century both cinema and one of Puccini’s most innovative works belong to.

Cinema and its memory encompass the entire show: the miners are watching a western movie when the curtain raises in the breathtaking, abrupt (both visually and musically) start of the opera. A film makes up for the walls of Minnie’s house at the outset of Act 2 (one more curtain in a staging which exploits curtains systematically). In Act 3 cowboys riding in the forests are projected in the background, effectively melding video and the stage action, as the miners sing and dance their orgiastic “Urrah”, raising their guns, preparing the climate for the impressive giant noose hanging from the ceiling. Finally, the drama’s denouement couldn’t take place anywhere else than in a cinema. In the final scene of the drama Minnie and Johnson show up elegantly dressed as cinema stars, while the stage has turned into the facade of a early-19th-century cinema where they are playing The Girl of the Golden West, presumably Robert Z. Leonard’s 1938 popular movie. As the music ends and the couple has disappeared in the backstage, the miners buy their tickets and enter silently the cinema to watch the story they have been acting in.

La Fanciulla Del West Libretto

That California landscape and its flavor, the Cloudy Mountains’ couleur locale were essential to the success of the opera was absolutely clear to Puccini and his publisher Ricordi right from the start, as the two California giant sequoia trees framing the setting sun on the cover of the original print libretto demostrate. The desert is Minnie’s background at her entrance as it is at the end of Act 1, while California woods materialize punctually at the outset of act 3. Minnie’s surprise entrance turns into marvelous apparition: a dreamlike epiphany as the wooden structure at the back of the stage – inspired to Buffalo Bill’s Bar in Irma Hotel in Cody (Wyoming) – lifts up completely and discover the picture of the wide landscape of the Grand Canyon, dimmed in the sunset light (not so distant from the one you can see in some recent mobile international advertisement). Alone, in the center of the stage, Minnie appears as coming from another dimension, in her western attire, holding a gun in her right hand.

Carsen is quite clever in managing the masses on the very often crowded stage of this choral opera, right from the start of it, when the cinema is swiftly transformed into the Polka saloon with miners gambling at its tables. In Act 2 the men (whose coats look menacing through the entire opera) investigating in Minnie’s house, a wooden room looking like a cave, spacious but at the meantime haunting and somewhat claustrophobic, project haunting shadows on the walls. Johnson’s presence in the house, as far as the libretto goes, is revealed by a few drops of his blood dripping from the floor above; Carsen – assisted in set designing by Luis Carvalho – transforms those drops into the ominous pulp vision of streams of blood oozing on the back wall, shed with a blinding white light: something which did not go unnoticed to old ladies in the audience and which confirms the mythical – not realistic – interpretation of the director’s vision, together with its movie-like aesthetics.

The second remarkable feature in La Scala’s production is Riccardo Chailly’s conduction, warmly acclaimed by the audience. In the contest of a broader 2015-2022 project of new staging of all of Puccini’s operas at La Scala, the performance itself has been preceded by an important preliminary work. La Scala’s Principal Conductor has gone back to the original score, which had been altered (mainly strengthened by doubling instruments and changing dynamics) by Toscanini for the Met premiere of the opera in 1910. This reconstruction, aside restoring smaller sections especially in Act 1, has generally allowed appreciating subtler, more delicate orchestral nuances. And Fanciulla’s orchestration is indeed full of nuances, carefully rendered by Chailly’s sensitive and empathic conduction, attentive to give appropriate intelligibility to small sentences but in the meantime to build unity in the scene, changing abruptly from wild fortissimo to glassy atmospheres, transforming the expressionistic climax of the couple’s kiss in Act 2 into the sweetest elegy of a tender love duet, making the audience feel the magic of the snow falling on the evening mountain landscape, but also willing to conjure the double-basses dominated dull atmosphere at the outset of Act 3, reportedly one of Chailly’s favorite moments. The orchestra acts empathically towards Minnie’s long melodies, but it’s also able to follow the miners’ movements on the stage, managing effectively the high rhythmic and polyphonic demands of the score. In what is possibly Puccini’s most symphonic score (almost a Wagnerian continuum), Chailly supports with a powerful strive Minnie’s and Johnson’s duet which ends act 1, and succeeds in devoting a powerful miniature symphonic poem to Johnson’s attempted execution.

La Fanciulla Del West

La Fanciulla del West is a choral work performed by an unusual number of secondary roles (no less than 15!). In La Scala’s staging they all behaved very well: so did the miners as the only other woman of the cast, Alessandra Visentin (Wowkle), as well as La Scala Choir instructed by Bruno Casoni. Acting and singing was always quite convincing and transparent – not an easy task at all. As far as the main roles are concerned, they offered a solid and enjoyable performance, yet far from memorable. Barbara Haveman’s Minnie (the Dutch soprano has originally alternated with Eva-Maria Westbroek, and then substituted the latter, after her withdrawl for health reasons) shows a determination perfectly appropriate to the character’s personality, a mixture of sweetness and virility. She has a nice, ringing voice, especially at ease in the top register; however the lower range of her voice is not as convincing and her Italian diction is far from perfect, with a particularly regrettable false-sounding «Delle storie d’amore?» in Act 2. Claudio Sgura’s Jack Rance is an imposing figure, exhibiting a round, full baritone voice. Roberto Aronica’s Johnson, although perfectly in tune, technically irreproachable and sporting a ringing voice, never conveys the sensation of being totally at ease in his vocal role and partially spoils with a not so smooth opening the only aria of the score, «Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano», a retrospective dream of gone-by melodramma and a true magical moment in its context, conceived for Caruso but quite memorable still much later in Domingo’s 1991 interpretation on La Scala’s stage.

La Fanciulla Del West Synopsis

Raffaele Mellace

the 18 of May, 2016Print