Cher Public

Call me by your namesake

Y’all act like you never seen a white person before.

Surprise! John Adams and Peter Sellars didn’t bother to learn a fucking thing about the Puccini masterpiece whose title they stole.

  • Dharmabray

    Still looking forward to seeing/hearing it in a couple of weeks!

    • Lucky you! Got a taste of it at the Guggenheim preview in September — which featured both Adams and Sellars as guest panelists — and it’s looking to be so good! (Worth mentioning that beyond the title and period, the opera’s got relatively little to do with Puccini’s masterpiece. And to be fair, saying they didn’t learn a fucking thing isn’t quite accurate: Sellars conceived the libretto while researching for a production of Fanciulla.) Full disclosure: I’m an Adamsoholic.

      • Dharmabray

        Ditto. Travelling to see Adams premieres seems to have become my thing! Though not too frequently given how far Australia is from everywhere. Last time it was The Gospel According to the Other Mary in LA 2012…

      • La Cieca

        Puccini didn’t write the libretto. And he also didn’t learn about the west from watching silent movies. (To be sure, Puccini didn’t have the hands-on experience of this team, i.e., owning a shack.)

        Oh, that’s right, I am totally overlooking Peter Sellars’ many years of manual labor as a miner.

  • Apulia

    I have a great fondness for the Puccini opera but I have quite a bit of sympathy for the intentions of the “corrective” they’ve attempted; I hope it comes out well

    • La Cieca

      My question is, how does one create a “corrective” to a work of art one doesn’t know a fucking thing about?

      • Again, given what I know about the new opera, I don’t believe Girls is intended as a “corrective” at all. (i.e. You could turn your own comment against yourself here.)

        • La Cieca

          Apulia introduced that term, not me.

      • Apulia

        they must have mysteriously intuited something that made them feel that the Puccini was not historically accurate, or that it left out a few little things about gold rush life and women? or, who knows, maybe they read a book?

        • La Cieca

          Well they sure as fuck didn’t read a score.

  • Nelly della Vittoria

    I’m going to tell you something and I’m not being coy, he said, laying a finger prettily on the interviewer’s doubting lips.

  • La Cieca is being unfair; Sellars quite plainly states that he got to know the libretto of La Fanciulla, then did a whole lot of his own research to write his own Revisionist Western libretto that has nothing to do with Puccini’s opera at all. It is Adams who says he doesn’t know the Puccini opera, but frankly, he doesn’t have to, since this project is obviously something knew entirely. Though I would concede that Adams is being a little dishonest when he renounces “sophomoric snarkiness”; the title of the new work is clearly intended as a kind of snark, which is fine.

    And speaking of snark, the photo for this post is great.

    • La Cieca

      Again, Puccini didn’t write the libretto for Fanciulla del West. You might as well say you don’t like Nozze di Figaro based an a close reading of da Ponte.

    • Kullervo

      “but frankly, he doesn’t have to, since this project is obviously something knew entirely.”

      Well, not really. In the interview he says:

      “[La Fanciulla del West] seems like a perfectly respectable period piece in the same way as Jack London. I think our opera is a lovely counterpoint.”

      So he does think his opera should be considered in relation to Puccini’s, which begs the question: How does one write a ‘counterpoint’ to a work of art they aren’t completely familiar with?

      • Camille

        Good question.

  • fletcher

    Dying to know which YouTube clip convinced Adams, a normally thoughtful musician, that Puccini’s most sophisticated score wasn’t worth more than ten minutes of his time up in the Tahoe shack.

    • Camille

      Me too.

      Hey fletcher— did I tell you about this book on FANCIULLA--(one hopes Mr Sellars came across it in his studies)--it is very helpful and has a lot of photos of the period fra altro

      PUCCINI AND THE GIRL
      History and Reception of
      The Girl of the Golden West

      Authors: Annie J. Randall and
      Rosalind Gray Davis

      Publishers: The University of Chicago Press

      Very useful with a ton of contemporary comment.

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      Obviously that YouTube clip that excerpts it alongside Pink Floyd on a list of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “influences”.

      • Camille

        Oh that is so very, very wicked of you, ma belle Nell!!

        It’s final:
        I HAVE to go to Marfa on Sat. Night so I shall miss U! Next time! We’ll meet up in the coven on Monday to trade notes?

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          (tremulously at window) Si mes vers avaient des ailes / Comme l’oiseau…

          • Camille

            “Comme l’esprit!”
            or L’amour, or La whatever it was.

            Nell, it’s more fun to remain in the dark, though, isn’t it?

  • Eaglerocker

    “I actually don’t know the Puccini opera. I looked at about 10 minutes of it on YouTube, and it just wasn’t my cup of tea.” Seems incredibly snarky. “a perfectly respectable period piece” is even more snarky. Despite what Sellars says about Puccini it would seem that David Belasco was “on set”, so to speak: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Belasco
    and it’s his play that as adapted for the opera. Does Sellars not know? Seems in poor taste to drag La fanciulla del West into what could just be a new opera…..

    • fletcher

      Honestly comparing it to Jack London is just about the shadiest thing possible.

  • Camille

    What ‘Western’ films were actually available to be viewed in Italy during the period Puccini was writing Fanciulla, which would have been around and about 1908 through 1910? On the face of it, this reference would seem to be entirely egregious, and unfortunately so.

    I don’t know if we can fault these two fellows so much for their ambitions, however, until the results are heard. The assertion that no snakiness is involved does seem way overstretched to be credible, however; fellas, you done hit the bong one too many a time.

    Why couldn’t they have named their opus something entirely original, like “The Ballad of Josie”, (a Doris Day late in the day movie,) e.g.? At least that wasn’t a pre-existing opera. “The hanging of Sister Sue”? “Out thar’ where the sun sets in the West”, or just anything not alluding to and playing upon this fairly well-established work. I do wonder about Mr Adams saying Fanciulla is a period piece, making it out as something to be heard in the parlor with doilies and mint juleps, as rather a wee bit condescending.

    We’ll all be waiting to hear about it in La Cieca’s parlor sippin’ our whiskey sours, from one of the redoubtable Frisco crew of parterrians, that is for certain. “Whiskey per tutti!”!!!

  • Talk of the Town

    I am very annoyed by this, and I count myself an Adams fan. You’ll note that NEITHER of them answered the actual question, which was “Why choose a title that so closely mimics Puccini’s opera?” Sellars and Adams are, obviously, leveraging Puccini’s name to market the piece, and so it seems to me that they should be a little nicer about him.

    The choice of title “The GirlS of the Golden West” also suggests that Sellars’s libretto remedies a problem found in the old libretto and so many other texts written by old(er) (also) white men, i.e. it asks “where were the women?” and tells you about them. This may be a fair criticism of Jack London, but it’s not a fair criticism of Belasco’s libretto, which is centred on Mimi.

    I went looking for other interviews, and Adams has expressed exactly that view: ““I don’t have any disparagement or critique of the Belasco libretto,” says Adams. “I think it’s a period piece, very much in the same way that Jack London is. But Jack London, if you read it carefully, there’s a lot that’s left out. People wanted to read certain stories. They didn’t want to read about the Chinese, and they didn’t want to read about the Mexicans, and they didn’t want to read about the very few black people that were here. So it’s a kind of alternative Fanciulla.”” (https://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2017/10/Features/California_Sound.html) This also suggests that Adams HAS read the libretto, but on the other hand if he had read it, he would have noticed the woman, the Mestizo, the Mexicans, and the Native Americans.

    In another interview, in response to the question “Where did the idea and inspiration for the new stagework come from?” Adams said: “Peter Sellars … proposed a ‘Fanciulla del West’ with real sourced stories, authentic texts and historical characters in place of the romantic fluff of the Belasco libretto.” (https://www.boosey.com/cr/news/John-Adams-introduces-Girls-of-the-Golden-West/101032)

    So basically the real problem with the original opera is the “happy ending”?

    • La Cieca

      I for one look forward toward Tristan and the Isoldes, based on first-hand accounts of 10th century Celtic princesses forced into arranged marriages.

      • Talk of the Town

        Yes!! And it’s not as if “Nixon in China” was a collection of actual quotations from Richard Nixon.

        I’m surprised they are taking this approach again when Sellars’s libretto for Dr. Atomic was so criticized.

        • “it’s not as if “Nixon in China” was a collection of actual quotations from Richard Nixon.”

          No, but it is full of actual quotations from Mao Zedong!

      • Talk of the Town

        “Peter Sellars … proposed a ‘Le Traviati’ with real sourced stories, authentic texts and historical characters. It’s based on first-hand accounts of French courtesans and, unlike the romantic fluff of the Maria libretto, the main character dies of consumption in the final scene.”

    • La Cieca

      I would say the real problem with the original opera is that it consists of a text with no music attached, since neither Adams nor Sellars indicates he has read the score or heard more than a few minutes of Puccini’s work.

    • Batesie

      Minnie

      • Talk of the Town

        Oops! Mimi wouldn’t have lasted a week at the Polka Saloon.

  • La Cieca

    Golden Girls of the Golden West: Four older pioneer women start up a saloon in 1849 California and hilarity ensues.

    • Eaglerocker

      Oh please someone undertake such a project! I nominate Jackie Beat for a gold rush Dorothy Zbornak. She’s been fabulous at that role in Los Angeles……