Cher Public

Not much gold, but plenty of rush

Sonora (Alexander Birch Elliott) flirts with Minnie (Kristin Sampson). Photo: Sarah Shatz.

New York City Opera’s 2017-18 season opened Wednesday night at the Rose Theater with a modest, earnest production of La Fanciulla del West which despite lacking some needed vocal glamour nevertheless proved mighty touchin’—to echo its bracingly colloquial if occasionally perversely obscure surtitles. 

Every time I attend a performance of Fanciulla (which unfortunately isn’t very often) my mind races with questions. Is this not Puccini’s greatest opera, his most human, least manipulative? Might Minnie be the quintessential Puccini heroine—complex, heroic, vulnerable? Why is this wondrous, affecting work done so rarely?

Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and premiered there in 1910 with the starry cast of Emmy Destinn, Enrico Caruso and Pasquale Amato conducted by Arturo Toscanini, Puccini’s work adapted from David Belasco’s play tells the story of a woman fending for herself in a world of men seeking their fortune in the rough and tumble world of the 1840s Gold Rush. Its American setting prompted librettist Guelfo Civinni to charmingly scatter “Hello!” and “Whisky” throughout the work before concluding it with “Addio mia California!”

Although the opera has the expected helpings of Puccinian “sex and violence,” its most salient and moving quality centers around the redemptive power of love through service to the community. While Minnie and Dick Johnson go off to their hopeful happy ending, it can feel like a tragedy for the men who gather at the Polka Saloon. They have lost the warm, caring center of their isolated existence and perhaps face a more uncertain future than the reunited lovers.

Does any other opera present such a motley crew of unhappy, self-doubting characters? Minnie doesn’t think she’s good enough for Johnson; he thinks nothing of death because life is so miserable; Rance obsesses over a woman who clearly can’t stand him; Jim Larkens, one of the miners, is so homesick he has an embarrassing public breakdown in the middle of the saloon, etc.

They could all use group therapy sessions after those Bible lessons followed by a bunch of self-affirmations in front of a no-doubt grimy mirror. While one harbors suspicions that Minnie’s absolute belief that Johnson is no longer Ramerrez the outlaw is unfounded, their confidence in a better life reassures us… at least for the moment.

General Director Michael Capasso’s pre-curtain welcome speech stressed the cooperative and economical nature of this US-Italian venture which featured wide-ranging if variously effective projections behind only the barest of set elements: a staircase, bar and a few tables for the first act; a fireplace, a necessary if awkwardly situated loft and another table for that all-important poker game in act 2; and then finally a stark railway stand itching to host a hanging.

If the melodrama fell somewhat short of its ideal impact, Ivan Stefanutti, who also designed the sets, projections and costumes, did direct the piece with simplicity and clarity.

The fight scenes lacked the verisimilitude of a John Ford-directed western, but the essential and winning camaraderie of the men came across well. Those magical opening minutes where they fuss and drink and gamble only to be reminded by Jake Wallace’s poignant song of how much they have left behind felt very real and City Opera’s hearty company of chorus and comprimarios gamely sported more scruffy beards and beat-up cowboy boots than the latest bear/bear-blast.

Failure to Lynch: Johnson (Jonathan Burton) defies Sheriff Rance (Kevin Short). Photo: Sarah Shatz.

Standouts were Alexander Birch Elliott’s ringing and virile Sonora and Michael Boley’s sweetly solicitous Nick. One wanted a more mellifluous rendition of Jake’s song than Kenneth Overton provided while Christopher Job sounded challenged by the lowest lines of Ashby’s music.

Conversely Kevin Short’s stolid Rance was stressed at the top of his range sounding more bass than baritone. His peacock of a sheriff, decked out in a striking teal suit and lavish fur duster, was more convincing as merciless lawman than as yearning lover. He thundered impressively but one sensed little of the vulnerability caused by his love for Minnie.

The director had him exit before the opera’s final moments sparing Rance the humiliation of Minnie’s reunion with Dick. Tenor Jonathan Burton’s outlaw lacked the ideal confluence of ardor and menace. He incongruously appeared to be the sweetest guy in town stressing his evolving affection for Minnie and the unfortunate circumstances that forced him into a life of crime. But Burton tackled the role’s vocal challenges head-on punching out (and holding onto) clarion high notes with apparent ease while wearing the world’s droopiest pair of chaps.

Much of the buzz during the second intermission centered on the shock of hearing complete the usually abridged soaring second-act love duet between Dick and Minnie. In it Burton and soprano Kristin Sampson delivered the kind of passionate, full-throated singing longed for by Puccini fans. Sampson, who was Tosca in the revivified City Opera’s opening production in early 2016 ,initially had me worried. Minnie’s magnificent sure-fire entrance in the first act fell flat, and her voice sounded muffled and hoarse while her acting consisted of lots of “hands on her hips” posing. I groaned to myself thinking “this is going to be a long night.”

But gradually it all came together. The diminutive soprano at first lacked the natural authority needed to command her unruly pack of men and she spent a lot of time at the bar with her back to the audience. But the voice eventually warmed up and she began showing us why everyone was so in awe of Minnie’s generosity of spirit.

Her sincere Bible-reading completely captivated her rapt subjects and the banter with Rance climaxed with an imposing high C at the climax of “Laggiù del Soledad.” The awkward back-and-forth with Johnson was perhaps more awkward than it should have been (neither Samspon nor Burton struck me as natural stage animals) but one still sighed with Minnie at her final “Ah!”

While Sampson’s voice could never be called beautiful, she used it expressively and her pungent chest voice grew in effect during the awesomely demanding second act. Her tracing Minnie’s extreme mood shifts from swoony infatuation to fierce betrayal to defiant triumph over Rance wasn’t exactly subtle but it packed a punch. One had to forgive her sounding tired and less potent in the third act after it again became clear that running onstage firing a gun is just not her thing.

Conductor James Meena showed a sure and idiomatic touch though his enthusiastic band (no doubt using a reduced orchestration—they numbered fewer than 70) sometimes lacked unity and there were occasional bobbles from the brass and winds.

Fanciulla was my first encounter with the “new” New York City Opera and while I might have wished for a more polished and sumptuous production I was very grateful to be back in Minnie’s good company again. The company’s season continues with intriguing repertoire never or rarely seen locally, including Picker’s Dolores Claiborne, Montemezzi’s L’Amore dei tre re and Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain. The organization is also presenting a rare local recital by the unmissable Anna Caterina Antonacci at Zankel Hall on February 20.

  • La Cieca
  • Camille

    These are both very reliable accountings of the performance of that wonderful, wonderful work La Fanciulla del West, Puccini’s capolavoro!

    I haven’t time for any personal observations other than to say this: if you have any fondness for this work or familiarity whatsoever thereof, I would strongly urge you to go hear it as the weak points are largely compensated for by the strong ones. And the utter THRILL OF IT ALL — the much debated page and a half finish to the love duet in the second act adds so much to it, and after more than thirty years of trekking around and catching performances when and if they occur, this was the first time I’d heard it sung live! Kudos to conductor and singers for daring all.

    Other than that all I have to add is this: hang the costumer from the gallows where Dick Johnson was to have expired. The worst, clumsiest and clownish costumes I have seen in a long, long while. Jack Rance couldn’t make up his mind if was a peacock or the California State Bear in the third act and NO prima donna should be caught dead in those dreary culottes, particularly AGAIN in the third act!! Inexcusable. Minnie may have been a “povera fanciulla, oscura e buona a nulla“, but even in the Frontier of the Snowy Mountains one would have known better than that! Vergogna!

    P.S. — it’s my strong suspicious that Minnie and Dick cross state lines and get as far as Reno, where they open a faro saloon, prosper, and have a passel of lil’ varmints, named Sonora, Bello, Harry, Joe, but NOT Jack.

    more later….

  • Elsa von Brabant

    Sadly I must disagree with much in both reviews. I love this opera and was looking forward to finally seeing it live and was hoping it would have been a huge night for NYCO. Unfortunately, it was not from where I was seated. I had a nice seat not too far and not too close (which honestly in the Rose is just about everywhere. A huge plus for that theatre, and the acoustic there is pretty good). I felt like the orchestra was just too loud most of the time, and from time to time seemed like they hadn’t rehearsed some bits.

    The production was ok, not great but not horrid, just sort of boring. The costumes for Minnie and Johnson were pretty bad, and Jack Rance was made to look pretty much like a pimp in his electric blue-green suit and enormous fur coat.

    Vocally the star, for me and in complete agreement with the other reviews, was the Sonora. However, in an opera called Fanciulla del West, it is a sad day when a supporting character is the stand out.

    Mr. Short has a beautiful beefy mostly bass voice, and sadly pushed it to its limits. In act two he really struggled to get the voice up and out resulting in some thin straight tone top notes. He was, however, pretty spot on with his acting.

    Jake Wallace’s ballad was not inspiring and just sort of bellowed out despite the delicate orchestral writing.

    The rest of the guys were pretty good and sufficiently ornery and whiskey fueled. Nick was maybe the most sympathetic person in the show, and Ashby seemed to be struggling vocally.

    Special kudos to the Wowlke for being the most vocally present female (oh wait there are only two) in the cast.

    People seem to be having a cow over the uncut second act duet. It is about 12 bars of some of the most horribly difficult music to sing. Caruso never sang it, and that should tell you something. It doesn’t leave anyone in good form and its just sitting in the crack and screaming. Good for them for “making it though” but maybe not the best idea to include it.

    Mr. Burton was someone I have never heard live but really wanted to because of all I had read about him and some of the youtube videos I had seen. For me, his singing was lacking. I don’t know if he was under the weather, but most of it seemed too cautious and underpowered. He did muster up some grinta in the big act two aria but it just still wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping for. His costume didn’t do him any favors either.

    Ms. Sampson (coincidently the NYCO company manager) had a rough start and things didn’t really get any better, but she tried and never lost focus. Many times she was inaudible in her middle register, which is unfortunate since a lot of it lies there. Her chest voice did often cut quite well over the orchestra and her frequent trips to the lip of the stage to thrust a hand skyward and scream a high note were an interesting choice; but how many times do we need to see her break the action, march to the front of the stage and thrust herself at a B natural or C, I think once was one too many.

    Whoever loaded the guns, overloaded them. I think the person next to me had a heart attack when they went off in act one.

    I really did want this to be a big night and an amazing run for NYCO but I just don’t think it was a good showing for a company trying to reinvent itself. I was really disappointed with the whole thing.

    I guess it could have been worse but still, why settle for “yeah it was ok” when they probably could have put on a better show with singers more suited to the roles. Do we really need Ms. Sampson in EVERYTHING at NYCO? Perhaps other companies should follow this model and cast the company managers in principle roles, there are some I wouldn’t mind seeing have a go at it.

    Oh well, my two cents, for what it’s worth. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful! Vieni Fuori!!!!!

    • Camille

      Vieni Fuor!!!

      Elsa, I share a lot of your sentiments, as well, but since this is maybe the fifth Fanciulla I’ve seen, I’ve learned to take What Is Served Up, and basta!!!

      Elisabete Matos came as close to being a great Minnie as I’ve seen yet but I’m certain there are others who’d argue that point. It’s a special role vocally speaking in that it requires a really good voice in the middle that can “speak” in a dialogue manner and then soar to great Wagnerian heights. I wondered why this soprano, too, but then I finally picked up the program and noted, to my amazement, she is the Company Manager. Huh? How does that work? No Belle Silverman, for sure.

      And you are quite correct, the title of the opera is not SONORA! What can we do? Antonietta and Big Renata are now no longer with us. Pace!

      • Elsa von Brabant

        Camille,
        I just don’t think opera companies should be betting on the audience saying “well so and so would have been better but they died and no one else sings it so we can just smile and move on like its ok.” That is like having the money for a Ferrari and saying “yeah but this el camino is all that is available right this moment so, its all good”

        I think companies should have some sort of artistic integrity (and I think repeatedly hiring your company manger for leading roles violates that integrity fyi) and find the best singers for the roles that they can. You can’t honestly tell me they did that here. Especially if Sonora and Wowlke were the stand outs!!! There have to be other singers out there who were available to NYCO who could have turned in a really stellar performance of the show. There are far too many singers out there for that to not be a possibility. In fact, I just searched Laggiu nel soledad on youtube and came up with this:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iEKHP55rnk

        so even if you wanted to stay American in your soprano casting, there is one right there.

        As I said above, I really wanted this to be a standout for NYCO, but it was a huge let down. Puccini’s music is glorious and even more so when it is sung well by people who are appropriate for the roles. Based on what I saw last night, NYCO fell flat in that aspect.

        I LOVE music and I LOVE opera and this was sadly a sour experience. Bin ich nun frei

        • Camille

          Bin ich AUCH nun FREI!!!

          That’s so funny — I was thinking about this lady, Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, isn’t it?

          Yeah, I agree with you Elsa but we are not the powers that be at NYCO and they have their reasons, I’m sure. To put on FANCIULLA just to put it on, as a grab attention season opener, is not really fair to the work since it requires specialists. I’m sure they are around, somewhere, just not to be found on the stage last night.

          Look, over the years at the Metropolitan, I’ve trained myself to tune everything out except the orchestra when I just can’t stand it. That’s what I do more and more as I attend less and less.

          I am sorry if this was your first Fanciulla, and you were right to expect more. It was, I now have counted them, my SIXTH Fanciulla in thirty-two years and I’ve come to expect so much and no more.

          About the matter of putting on the Company Manager as the protagonist character, I’m a little surprised. Isn’t that kind of a provincial practice when such and such pays for the privilege? I don’t know anything anymore.

          Oh, and she was certainly the BEST Wowkle I’ve ever seen and heard. Delightful performance and witty. Still don’t know her name.

          • Elsa von Brabant

            oh look there’s more Blancke-Biggs

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wnVNPL1aa4

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGq77h55rdU

            How is she not around singing this stuff EVERYWHERE

            • Camille

              “How is she not around singing……?” Wrong agent.

              I heard one act of her broadcast Towca in 2010 and found her very good. The MET certainly knows of her but for whatever reason, they are not calling.

              Just because you are good doesn’t necssarily mean they want you.

          • grimoaldo2

            ” I’ve trained myself to tune everything out except the orchestra when I just can’t stand it.”

            haha, that’s what I do too and if the staging is stupid I close my eyes.And if it is an opera by Verdi I still have a good time.

            • Camille

              You know what I mean, then? There is a refuge to be taken in the Met Orchestra as they are almost always good if not great and I just focus on them and go to my safe space. There is so much going on the orchestra and the harmonies to occupy one’s self with, if all else faile but it takes time to learn how to focus on how to get there, a least a little bit. Verdi was so great there is always something or another to listen out for; at the least of it there’is tracking similarities to other, later operas. Like in Attila today, I noticed a similarity to a duet in Rigoletto (Duca and Gilda ). This opera is so fun as he’s right on the verge and just brimming over with testosterone and vigor and yearning for la patria. So alive and so vital, it’s thrilling. And what a great role for the baritone, the Ezio. It have to read up on the orignal cast for this one.

              I hope you will enjoy the Aïda and I must say you are lucky to hear Semenchuk as Amneris, who was in sumptuous secure and generous voice in the Salzburger edition. What an assured and potent singer. . Cannot wait for the Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci coming up in cold January with Alagna et al.

          • PATRICK MACK

            I’ve seen two great Fancuilla productions both here in Los Angeles and both with Domingo. The first was the San Francisco/Hal Prince borrowed with La Dame Gwyneth who was a freight train coming out of a tunnel. The second was a borrowed Del Monaco production that looked exactly like the current Met but on a smaller scale. Malfitano as Minnie and I was actually surprised at how wonderful she was.

            (Sidebar: Inside story is that she was horrific to the cast apparently. At the end of the dress rehearsal she came out for her bow and slipped and fell on the stage. NO ONE moved to help her).

            Just like the original Alfano ending of Turandot I also wait for the day I finally get to hear those missing 2 pages from the Act II duet LIVE. They finally started opening up the cut in the Bible lesson scene at least. The recording with Dennis O’Neil and Eva Marton (obviously standing no where near him) is the only one I know that includes it. Have we heard of any others?

            • Camille

              Precisely put, Patrick, and thanks for solving my dilemma as to how to express the Dame Gwyn Express Train Minnie Experience. I tried to love it, but didn’t and efft after serious paint was peeled from the Pavilion and chandeliers shattered. Too bad, for I never heard Mr Sunday sing the hit thne until 2009, and thrn in transposition.

              She was a powerhouse but didn’t quite fit into Minnie’s boots. A fanciulla she was NOT, a Valkyrie, Yes! A Fab Färberin as well, just marvelous.

              Too bad about Malfitano as I happened to witness the opposite: on the occasion of her 50th birthday, a broadcast performance of Vec Makropoulos in 1998, I think it was, the entire set of perfoRmers taking their bows broke into a round of f “Happy Birthday to you”. Considering they sang it to the just expired Emilia Marty, it was both funny and heartwarming. I’ll
              never forget her radiant face or her joy.

  • Camille

    It just occurred to me that it would have been nice to have had a Porgy Amor survey of La Fanciulla del West.

    Guess it’s too late now as that takes a lot of time and work to listen and compare. Too bad, as this opera needs all the help and friends it can get.

    • Porgy Amor

      Maybe someday. I love the opera, and I’ve seen most of the filmed ones that are commercially available. I think there are…nine now? Stella, Neblett, Zampieri, Daniels, Dessì, Westbroek, Voigt, Stemme I, Stemme II.

      Tosca, by contrast, would require a lot of winnowing. I would not even want to count, but there must be more than 30.

      Fanciulla and the complete Trittico are my favorites of Puccini’s, so I am always happy when they come around somewhere, but I do not think of Fanciulla as terribly neglected. Within the past ten years, one could have seen it at the Met, the ROH, ENO, Chicago Lyric, San Francisco, Vienna State, Stockholm Royal, Den Norske, Netherlands, La Scala, and now NYCO Renaissance. Even some smaller North American companies have taken a crack. Denver, Des Moines, and Louisville come to mind. Most of these were new productions, and only a few were on the occasion of the work’s centenary.

      So it isn’t up there with Puccini’s big four (or five?), but it turns up fairly often and widely. It’s not Gioconda or the Meyerbeer of one’s choice, in terms of going neglected. That central role is a gauntlet, though, and not every good Tosca or Butterfly wants to risk it.

      • Camille

        Butterfly and Tosca are one thing, Minnie and Turandot another. in my mind Turandot is the warm-up act for Minnie. Same tessitura generally speaking but with Minnie the real difficulty is making the voice speak in the dialogue in the mid voice and in order to do that a command of the language is necessary, not just singing technical mastery. With Turandot, so long as the highline tessitura is maintained it may be sung with Sutherland’s dentures and still come out fabulously. (A shame she didn’t take it on the road.)

        I feel as if Tosca has a somewhat similar profile but even if difficult, not the lengthier challenge Minnie is: a Valkyrie with a heart of gold. Perhaps Maria Jeritza, who made a specialty of the role, had the right combination of attributes. She sang all three and claimed Puccini had her in mind when he wrote Turandot. I don’t know as I wasn’t there. Too bad.

  • Kenneth Conway

    Q: “Is this not Puccini’s greatest opera, his most human, least manipulative?” A: Yes.

    • Yes it is or yes it is not?

      • Armerjacquino

        I’m very fond of FANCIULLA, and de gustibus etc, but I do blink a bit when I see it described as Puccini’s finest work.

        • fletcher

          I’ve always thought it stands head and shoulders above the rest (except maybe Trittico but ESPECIALLY Turandot which is mostly meretricious hokum). I guess people have hang-ups about the doo-dah-day bits but I don’t see how that’s any worse than some of the cringier moments in Butterfly. The missing 16 bars at the end of the duet were a later addition (1922 I think) but I love them, even if it’s a little overripe -- this is the composer of “Nessun dorma” and “O soave fanciulla” after all. Thrilling stuff. Anyway the music is very beautiful and sophisticated and you can read others more interesting than me who write about the Debussian harmonies and tonal palette but what I love the most is the sense of expanse, a majestic loneliness that is very much a part of the vast American west, I think. And that for me was always the heart of the opera -- isolation in the face of the sweeping landscape, homesickness despite camaraderie, longing for something else. Minnie is such a remarkable character, so natural and real, and the love story so finely drawn, the timidity, hesitation, sudden outbursts, reversal, so much more genuine than the meet-cute of Bohème or painful naïveté of Butterfly. And the third act has so much musical poetry and novelty -- some parts remind me so much of Sibelius -- and Minnie’s final plea, miner to miner -- and the desperate, exhausted “Si può ciò che si vuole” -- the beating heart of the opera. Aaaanway yeah, de gustibus. I lot of the affection comes from it being the red-headed stepchild of Puccini’s brood, against the ubiquity of Tosca or whatever.

          • Camille

            Bravo, fletcher, take a bow.

            Do you know of this. — http://www.fanciulla100.org

            I discovered it in 2010 and mostly forgotten it since, so happy to have found it once more. Have you read Allan Atlas on FdW?

            Hope all is well in L.A. A big tear came to my eye at “Addio mia California• the other night. I’ll always have it in my heart. Ciao!

            • fletcher

              Merci chère Camille! I’ll add it to the list -- I’ve been making my way through Budden’s Puccini book and would love to read more. Things are fine here, despite the lackluster season Conlon and Domingo have cooked up. I threw all my money at the San Francisco Ring next summer -- my first, for better or worse.

  • Christopher: Thanks for the great review and you’re on-point comments about this masterpiece.

  • aulus agerius

    VA Opera is offering Fanciulla in November with Roger Honeywell and Jill Gardner. Jake Gardner sings Ashby; he was the Sonora, pleasing to eye and ear, in the first production I saw in SF with Neblett and Domingo 28 yrs ago. I’ve heard of Honeywell for years but I’ve never heard him. Perhaps I’ll go over to Richmond for it though that would be the same day as the Straniera in DC.

  • quoth the maven

    A matter of clarification: The added passage in the Act II duet does NOT represent the restoration of a “cut.” The standard version is the music written for, and performed at, the 1910 premiere. Puccini added the extra music, with its full cadence signalling an applause break, for a 1922 production in Rome. Personally, I think it’s meretricious stuff.

    • fletcher

      It reminds me quite a bit of the end of the Giorgetta’s big number in Tabarro, which is also of questionable taste, and which I also love. Unsubtle, certainly. The duet feels to me a little too open-ended without it, probably because I’ve listened to the Mitropoulos too many times, and now the jump from the soaring ‘eternamente’ to the quiet bit right after (and a switch from A-flat to E) seems, well, unconsummated.

      • Camille

        You mean “È ben altro il mio sogno…”, the ending joined by Luigi?

        I promise to give Tabarro a fair listen to next year when it shows up on the stage. Praying for a substitute soprano although KO would probably do least damage as Giorgetta. The Lauretta I dare not contemplate. Yikes!.

        • Porgy Amor

          I was just talking about that with some people, what we think will happen with the Trittico. I personally may prefer, rather than the “one woman/three roles” stunt, three sopranos who are good for the individual operas, as with Muzio, Farrar, and Easton a hundred years ago. Get a verismo powerhouse for Giorgetta (Trebs?), get someone “sensitive” and with a beautiful sound for Angelica (Hartig?), get someone young, cute, and sweet-toned for Lauretta (Sierra? Yende?). Then it wouldn’t tax any one singer learning them all on fairly short notice.

          Buf if all of Opolais’s pending projects at the Met get reassigned, they’ll probably give them all to Yoncheva, or something.

          • Camille

            Yoncheva. I just don’t know yet. Looking forward to her Iolanta.

            What about Ange for Angela? It’s Puccini, after all. Though it has a lot of pesky high C’e. Loud ones and a soft one too. Oops.

            The one woman show is Hoffman,, not the Trittico!. Dumb idea. I don’t know where the concept started but I’d wish it to stop right now.

            • fletcher

              It actually can be an amazing one woman show -- for a star contralto (Frugola, Zia Principessa, Zita). I think Blythe pulled it off last time at the Met. For the lead women, though, it doesn’t make sense. Lauretta and Giorgetta are very different roles and it takes a special kind of artist to elevate Angelica to its potential.

            • Porgy Amor

              What often happens with the one-woman show is that we get a “seasoned” star who’s a good Giorgetta and Angelica, but begs audience indulgence as Lauretta. Scotto’s hat trick in that ’81 run (with the telecast) was deservedly praised, but really, she had left behind roles such as Lauretta. I’m sure she had been perfect for it 15-20 years earlier, but simpering at Bacquier and singing love duets with Philip Creech while nearing 50…no. Neither vocally nor theatrically did it come off as as well as the earlier two portrayals. I’d imagine, without having heard or seen it, that Stratas in ’89 (around the same age) was similar.

              Nizza made the three work pretty well on that Modena video, in a small venue.

            • La Cieca

              Scotto was perfect five years earlier, in fact.

              http://traffic.libsyn.com/parterrebox/Scotto_1976.mp3

            • Armerjacquino

              I’d say she was pretty damn good in 81, too…

              I’m not the Opolais- hater most people round here seem to be, but I agree that Lauretta isn’t her ideal casting and that it’s very hard to find a singer who suits all three.

              That said, Netrebko could be hilarious as Lauretta in camp mode, and of course she’d smash the other two.

            • Camille

              Poor Frugola! What a role. You’ve got to give the mezzo/contralto some compensation for doing the bag lady role, so I’m all for giving her the Zia Principessa as well, a really great piece for a supporting role. I’m sorry now, very sorry, I didn’t go hear Ewa Podles sing it in San Francisco when I had opportunity. And yes indeed, Ms. Blythe really did that trio up exceedingly well, or so she did from what I heard of it over the radio. However, that is a separate issue and I still believe the habit of handing over the three soprano protagonist roles in the Trittico to be stubbornly wrong-headed. Once in a great while someone can, and does, get away with it but that would be the exception and not the rule. I have never seen Scotto’s assumption of all three roles, don’t know how I missed that but did, but she was a Puccini specialist in later career and so far as the Lauretta is concerned she had the added ability of not only having inhabited the lyric-coloratura cum soubrette Fact in earlier career, but she was/is a very petite woman, which makes behaving in a flirtatious, girlish manner come a little easier, or so I would think. Then again, I haven’t seen it so I don’t know how that came off.

            • grimoaldo2

              .”I’m sorry now, very sorry, I didn’t go hear Ewa Podles sing it in San Francisco when I had opportunity.”
              I saw that, she was terrific, the only time I saw her live. That had Racette in all three lead soprano roles, she was “OK, I guess” but totally overshadowed for me by Podles and the magnificent Paolo Gavanelli as Michele in Tabarro and as Gianni Schicci, just perfect.
              How I agree with you about Hoffmann being a one-woman show. It certainly ought to be anyhow, that was Offenbach’s intention and the only way the work has any coherence.

            • Camille

              I’m happy you got to see and hear at least once as she is well worth the trouble. I was able to catch two or three of her wonderful La Cieca’s here in 2008 and she was really something as well as fearless in the staging, rolling and being pushed by that SOB Barnaba in the third act. I remember watching Borodina and Voigt standing with her and watching with utmost respect and affection when she sang “Voce di dona”.

              Yes, it really bothers me about the Hoffman, but then we’ll never know exactly what Offenbach wanted--some say-- but he DID apparently assign the heroines to one soprano, I can’t remember her name at the moment. . They used to do it, even at the Met and Bev Sills sang all three so until recently it was done. Oh yes, Nebs was supposed to have sung them all and then her voice began to change too drastically so, no go.

              Grimoaldo, how do you rate “The Sorceror” by G&S? It’s being done here next week by NYGASP (love their name). Just curious. A lot like l’Elisir d’amore perhaps?

            • grimoaldo2

              “The Sorcerer” is delightful, very sweet, one of the earliest G&S works,doesn’t really have the satiric bite of the later ones. I have never really thought of it as being like “L’Elisir”, since that is so Italian and actually has quite deep emotion in it whereas The Sorcerer is very English, picture of Victorian village life, has an ensemble with everyone singing about what they are going to have for their tea:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wnw1zu1TC0
              Now to the banquet we press;
              Now for the eggs and the ham;
              Now for the mustard and cress,
              Now for the strawberry jam!

              Now for the tea of our host,
              Now for the rollicking bun,
              Now for the muffin and toast,
              Now for the gay Sally Lunn!

              The eggs and the ham, and the strawberry jam!

              The rollicking bun, and the gay Sally Lunn!

              The rollicking, rollicking bun!

              As you have enjoyed the other G&S you have seen, I think you would like it!

            • Camille

              A rollicking bun and a gay Sally Lunn is certainly most enticing — so I shall duly consider it and see if my other half is interested.

              Thus far I’ve not made a faux-pas with my tentative & gingerly little G&S excursions and would feign continue skipping along merrily on that path.

              They also are giving Ruddigore in the springtime which is perhaps more grist for my mill.

              Thank you so much for being my G&S adviser. I’m treading in unknown territory.

            • Donna Annina

              Mme Camille, Ruddigore is well worth milling the grist, especially if the cast has a great Sir Despard. And speaking of great, here’s Donald Adams for you.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e0OtWYNfXo

            • Camille

              Yes and thanks Donna! It is Ruddigore I’m most interested in so I’ll bear this fellow in mind.

              Aren’t you in Cincinnati or Cleveland? Is there anything exciting or good coming up for you all there? I was just remembering the other day the Bluebeard’s Castle I saw with von Dohnanyi conducting the Cleveland Orchestra here in Carnegie Hall. Never forget what he did with the orchestra.

            • Donna Annina

              I reside south of the Lake, where Langree presides over the Cincinnati Symphony. He’s going to be conducting Pelleas in October. Music Hall has been undergoing renovation and officially opens in three weeks with major acoustic improvements. That’s the big news, more so than the schedule itself. The Pelleas cast includes Naomi O’Connell, Phillip Addis, Russell Braun and Nancy Maultsby. I don’t know any ot these singers, except that O’Connell is a mezzo. Care to weigh in?

            • Camille

              Actually—-
              The only one of these singers I have heard is Nancy Maultsby, and only once, as Gaea in the Daphne Welser-Möst brought to Lincoln Center two summers ago. She was a mezzo in a contralto part so — it was an uncomfortable fit, but she made it through all right. I’m sure Geneviève will go a lot better.

              For the others—
              I became curious first about Russell Braun as I know his name, having heard it announced either over radio or maybe here on parterre, or somewhere. So, I looked up on Operabase, and he seems to sing a lot in Canada, as does the other fellow Addis, so perhaps they are Canadians? Maybe kashania could fill you in on them both as he would have actual experience of them.

              Interesting to this project, Mr. Addis has sung Pelléas twice before, once with Mo. Langree at l’Opéra-comique. He seems to be primarily in the baritone category so you will have a bona fide baryton Martin sing the role, and perhaps that is for the best. Dwayne Croft sang Pelléas here quite a few years back, and did very well by it, too.

              About the Mélisande, haven’t a clue. She seems to have sung for only a short time, ( Cherubino ), and perhaps is chosen for her youth, fragility, looks, mastery of French idiom and that crazed fey aura Mélisande should project—or a combination thereof. It’s a special role which has a lot of requisites other than voice.

              Anyway--that’s my two bits and here’s hoping kashania can fill you in a bit more! The good news is you have an experienced Pelléas, but then, it’s always Golaud I go for as he interests me more.

            • Donna Annina

              Merci, chere Camille, and I apologize for not having diacritical marks available to me on my keyboard.
              What I am most eagerly anticipating is what Mo. Langree brings to his reading of the score. He’s frequently stated to the local press that this is his favorite opera and I know his previous outings have gotten quite the raves. Langree proven to be a great success in the past two seasons, so we are looking forward to this.
              What’s less certain is James Darrah’s staging. After reading accounts of his work in Boston, Cleveland and San Francisco, his work with the previous two installments of the CSO’s “Pelleas Project” were outright bores, so much so that I simply closed my eyes and focused on the music. For the sake of clarity, the first installment in 2015 featured Schoenberg’s suite; last year, we heard a reading of the Maeterlinck play and Faure’s complete score. Darrah’s use of images and his staging of the play interfered with rather than enhancing the music.
              So…at worst, I can stare up at the chandelier and let Debussy’s magic envelop me.

            • Camille

              Oh piffle to both diacritical marks and stagings!! Don’t let them get in your way of FUN!

              My, this Pelléas Project sounds right up my street, I would have loved to have heard it all, especially the Schoenberg, which I so dearly and desperately love to death! It all seems to bode quite well as I remmber hearing Langree in something in the last few years and feeling he had some of the right stuff. Was that at Mostly Mozart? I can’t remember.

              The fact you have a Pelléas who has worked with th conductor before should help a lot. The Mélisande appears to be the wild card and will probably work, or not. Perhaps the maestro has chosen her for a particular reason? On verra and keep us posted on the outcome, please.

            • Donna Annina

              Vraiment, on verra. I shall keep you posted. WGUC offers delayed broadcasts of the CSO concerts and I don’t know if you can find them anywhere in the cloud but it might be worth a try. Ignoring the wasted theatrics, the concerts were wonderful, especially the Faure

            • Camille

              Please DO keep us updated as to this interesting sounding Pelléas, as it promises to be worthwhile, and anyway, I love to hear bits from all over the country and the world. Thanks for the WGUC info, sometime I will get around to it. I love Fauré so much, as well as the Schoenberg, both of which I have--somewhere-- a recording with both of their suites and love to listen to both.

            • grimoaldo2

              Delighted Camille dear, and don’t miss Ruddigore! My absolute favourite!

            • Porgy Amor

              Damrau had it all working for her when she played the four in the Richard Jones production, one of the best I have seen, in Munich with Villazón. However, that was about six years ago, and maybe the time has passed. She was to repeat the feat in Los Angeles earlier this year (reviewed here by Patrick Mack) but opted for the Netrebko compromise, only Antonia and Stella.

              I had thought the Met’s most recent one-woman Hoffmann show was Carol Vaness’s, to open the 1992-93 season, but now I see that Ruth Ann Swenson did it in 2000.

            • Camille

              Yes I remember the Vaness go at it, the Giulietta portion is what I can recall, perhaps more amenable to her voice.

              I’m sorry I missed Ruth Ann’s assumption as I could have seen it but did not. At times she was so fine. At others, well I don’t know but it just didn’t work in certain roles, like that hapless Lucia. The equally woebegone Elvira-- what happened in that first act? Her Sonnambula and Elena in Donna del Lago, lovely. Beautiful at her best. Especially as Ines in L’africaine.

              Damrau I find exCEEDINGly frustrating as I never know what she will do. Oh, I remember now!--I did watch the Antonia portion of that Hoffman online, as a result of a parterre posting and found her extremely compelling and truly in her element there! When she is good she can be great but one never knows with her. Maybe I’ll watch the rest. I just don’t like it when she starts to “ACT” too much. I hate “ACTING”!

            • Daniel Swick

              I don’t remember RAS being bad in that Puritani…boring, yea, but the singing was oftern quite good.

            • Camille

              The first act mad scene end. She didn’t sing the high option and sat there like a potato pancake.

              As she DID sing the cabaletta with the high notes in the second act I don’t know what was up. All I recall is her stressed out look at first act’s end. I was there for the tenor, in any case.

              Guess Miss Ruth Ann was just not good at going loca, that’s all. I always liked her and think she was not always treated that nicely but I don’t know any of the facts, ma’am.

              Thinking in general she fared better in French music but I dunno fer shure.

            • Daniel Swick

              The tenor was Stuart Neil? No?

            • Camille

              Yes!
              I tend to confuse his name with Dennis O’Neill. Stuart was terrific when I first heard him but he didn’t seem to catch on here and I am sorry about that.

            • fletcher

              The Michele/Schicchi connection isn’t made much on recordings, really -- not sure why. Certainly no tenor attempts Luigi/Rinuccio (though Seiffert on the Patanè might have).

    • Camille

      Thaïs IS Meretricious.
      Minnie “è una creatura d’anima buona e pura…”, ecc. Now, the first production of this work I saw had a director who insisted “Quella lì, NON è vergine..ecc ad nauseam”, in reference to Minnie’s character, and it was highly resented by the old ladies in attendance.

      If you mean “people pleasng” and building to a false climax, okay already-- Minnie and Dick are guilty as charged, but frankly, if that ending was good enough for Mitropoulos, It’s good for me.

      Most of us here do already know the facts of the matter, ma’am, about the circumstances regarding the extra bit of the duet but thanks anyway for pointing it out to those still uninitiated. So far as it being a “cut”, it must also be clarified that it is in fact certainly part art of the current published standard Ricordi score and with no VI-DE indications of any sort whatsoever and thus for the last forty years I’ve been aware of it. So call it as you like and like it or not, it’s in the score right there to he seen and sung with the rest.

      • Armerjacquino

        Well, as Gore Vidal said, Meretricious and a Happy New Year.

        • Camille

          And belly up to the bar, boys!

          I always forget about that line but this Christmas I’ll going to remember it!

  • quoth the maven

    A point of clarification: The seldom-performed passage in the Act II duet doesn’t represent a restored “cut,” since it wasn’t there in the first place. Puccini added it for a 1922 Rome production. I personally think it’s pretty meretricious. The original version is more atmospheric and more original.

  • Camille

    I would just like it to be noted that in the above performances, the conductor, James Meena, did so without using a score- no mean feat!

    From my aerie, I counted only 35 -- 40 players in the orchestra, some were obscured from my view but I’d put it at 45 players; tops. A really reduced score. Nevertheless they played quite well.

  • In over 35 years of operagoing I’ve had the chance to see it just once!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5LvMq76BfE

    • Camille

      Merci for this version. I guess this is The Nina 2.0 edition??
      I couldn’t stand watching the Ronald McDonald version, EVEN if it promised me the sight of Jonas drooling over Minnie. At least this wig is ok, if not great.

      When and where was this mise en scène oriented? A 1949 post-war leather bar in San Francisco? Hummmmmmm, very interesting and will have to find time to watch.

      Did you see this in the théâtre, NPW, and what goodies have you got cooked up for the upcoming season? Waiting to hear all of your exploits! Ton amie, Camille

      • Porgy Amor

        That is the late Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Americana-pastische production (day traders on Wall Street; Polka as gay bar; pink trailer for Minnie’s cabin; junkyard for the forest clearing). It was hard to talk of a realistic time and place, as it was somewhat satirical in spirit, with the heroine making her Act Three entrance down stairs, looking like Jean Harlow, the MGM lion roaring behind her. This was new in around 2009 at Netherlands Opera, when it was filmed with Eva-Maria Westbroek. I did not know Paris had had it with Stemme more recently.

        The Vienna one with Kaufmann was Stemme 2.0. Stemme 1.0 had been in Stockholm with Antonenko (Christof Loy).

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxXUlrQbqYI

        • Camille

          Thanks for your further information and directions! I was a tad confusa as I’d thought to have seen some aspects of it before, somehow.

          Wall Street? How do those guys have time for leather bars? I thought they just did drugs--that’s what Leo diCaprio led me to believe. Oh well, no one ever tells me anything about sex, drugs and rock & roll.

          Maybe I’ll put my leather jacket on, saddle up and watch it. Thank you for your kind interventions in the vast lacunæ of my lackings.

        • Thank you for replying in my stead, Porgy. I was in Brussels yesterday for Pinocchio. Yes, Camille, it was in the theatre, at the Bastille.

          • Camille

            O mon dieu you will be running to and fro! Are you intending to take notes on all of them? Most interesting to me is the duo of Miraculous Mandarin and Bluebeard’s Castle as I have an idea now for a longtemps that would combine well. Also, the Don Carlos will be the French version hopefully? ‘Twould be nice en fin! The Jeptha will be staged? Sameon et Dalila will be with whom?

            I await thee!! Hoping it will not all prove too fatiguing. I have become very choosey now, as I find it drains me so if a bad or bad/mediocre performance. Life’s too short, especially mine now.

            À bientôt!

            • Don C. is in French with Kaufmann, Tézier and Yoncheva, supposing everyone shows up.

              Jephtha is staged by Claus Guth at the Palais Garnier.

              Samson and D. is in concert, sadly, at the Champs Elysées, with Alagna and Lemieux.

              I write everything up, as otherwise I forget all about it. So if you want to know more about Paris’s Fanciulla you can find it on my blog.

            • Camille

              D’accord and okay.

              I had not fully realized you waited up EVERYTHING—-thinking it was only for your predilections and special occasions, like when you walk out after the first act of a five act opera. oops.

              I sort of wish Alagna would be singing the Samson here next year so keep us informed, please and I am hoping for the Don C. en français with all the participants indicated, but frankly, I’ll believe it when I hear it!

              Bonjour et merci beaucoup et mille fois!!

            • Poor memory was one of the main reasons I started writing reports: to remember whom I’d seen and heard in what, and what the production was like. That was pre-blog, then in 2007 I copied everything on to a blog (which is why so many articles on my blog date from that year) and took it from there. So I do write about everything in my season (but not about exhibitions I visit or trips abroad, etc…). I just published an article about Boesmans’ Pinocchio in Brussels, where La Monnaie has at last reopened.

  • Vincent Lombardo

    La Fanciulla cannot be in any way Puccini’s best opera!!?? The tosca-mario-scarpia trio beats the minnie-sherrif-jack love triangle any year … so let us say.. madama butterfly -- tosca -- la boheme do beat out this golden girl .. sorry … Puccini did say it was among his best .. this does mean 4th place. So much for this oddly defined (NY TIMES review) ‘good enough’…. whatever that means???!

    • Camille

      Signor Lombardo,

      The issue a lot of us Fanciulla-- fangirls are discussing is probably related a lot more to the work as a whole, and its overall particularly symphonic nature, especially the magnificent effects achieved in the second act, i.e., the effect that Debussy, Schoenberg and who knows whom else had had on Puccini.

      The soprano/tenor/baritone-bass triad is not exactly the issue at hand here, and that would still be really a matter of De gustibus, as most things around these quarters are in any event. I certainly love Tosca as well, not to mention the others, but in this work Puccini (as he has stated in his letters) was VALIANTLY struggling and striving towards a new ideal, and one which he succeeding in achieving, as the opinion of others far more qualified than myself have attested.
      That’s all.

  • Camille

    By the way —- has anyone else noticed in the Met Wiki Future pages that La Fanciulla del West is listed as one of the repertory items for NEXT season, 2018-2019? Further, that it is listed with no suggestion as to whom the participants and conductor will be, or even what production (I would assume the current one but then again, quien sabe?)

    I don’t really know how reliable all of that Wiki Future is and wonder if some of it isn’t posted by Wishful Thinking. In any case I should love to hear it again, especially as it will be the season of the Trittico.

    Does anyone present here have any pertinent knowledge they would not be compromised in telling? Thank you.

  • Tim Violette

    Well, I was there last night (Sunday 9/10/17) and had tears in my eyes at a few points, so it was at least affecting! But Puccini kills me anyway. The Jazz at Lincoln Center, I think, is a wonderful venue for opera— I sat in the back, which was almost the same as sitting toward the front at the Met. I imagine it’s closer in size to the European houses.