Seen and Heard International, October 16, 2013
|José Mª. Irurzun
Puccini, La fanciulla del West, Wiener Staatsoper, 5. Oktober 2013
Girl of the Golden West: Unfortunately, Not Staged in Golden West
It is interesting that this opera ̶ musically one of Puccini’s best with its
rich orchestral colors ̶ has never been a very popular work. However, in
recent years it has been performed more frequently due to the interest in it
shown by certain sopranos and conductors.
In this case, the interest
of the Vienna State Opera’s music director, Franz Welser-Möst, seems to have
been the impetus for the decision to mount a new production. The opera had
been absent from this stage for 25 years; the leads at that time were Mara
Zampieri and Placido Domingo. Welser-Möst also achieved a near-miracle by
convincing two top stars to make their debuts in this production. The result
was good although not everything was outstanding, at least considering the
high expectations beforehand.
The production bears the signature of
Marco Arturo Marelli, who has attempted to escape the atmosphere of the Wild
West that is so present in the original play by David Belasco and in the
opera’s libretto. But as much as one may want to leave that somewhat kitsch
Wild West, attempts rarely work out because the libretto is full of
references to it.
The action has been moved to a mining camp in
modern times, around the middle of the 20th century. In the first act when
the workers come to the bar, it is not exactly La Polka of the libretto but
rather a trailer park cafe, and Minnie’s cabin is now a mobile home. The
last act takes place in the railroad station of the mining town, on a stage
surrounded by large metal containers. All in all the sets work reasonably
well, and the costumes are well suited. There is a sort of childish final
twist when Minnie and Dick Johnson leave town in the basket of a
rainbow-colored hot air balloon, a ploy better suited to an opera buffa, as
Emilio Sagi did in The Barber of Seville at Teatro Real.
direction was good, with excellent crowd movements on stage ̶ so important
in the first act of the opera. In short, it’s an attractive production, but
it doesn’t leave a lasting memory .
Welser-Möst’s interest in La
Fanciulla del West led to one of the major problems with the performance.
When a conductor champions an opera, there is always the risk that his
vision can overpower the ensemble, and this is what happened here to a
certain extent. Welser-Möst offered an almost symphonic reading, one to be
truly enjoyed, especially with the presence of this magnificent orchestra in
the pit. The problem with his conducting was that he seemed to forget that
there were singers outside the pit. These were not exactly small voices, but
Minnie was the only one able to pass the sound barrier that existed between
the stage and the audience. There was also a good performance from the
choir, but they too had difficulty making themselves heard. In short, it was
a spectacular musical version, but we were in an opera house and not in a
The great Nina Stemme was Minnie, the heroine of the
opera, and she gave the best performance of the evening. She won the poker
game and, with the assistance of the balloon, she flew very high indeed. The
Swedish soprano is in splendid shape both as singer and as interpreter, and
there was no sound barrier she could not surpass with her powerful,
appealing voice. After the final sentence of the second act’s Tre assi e un
paio, Sheriff Jack Rance had no alternative but to leave the stage, even if
the libretto had not said to do so.
Jonas Kaufmann was a somewhat
disappointing Dick Johnson. He suffered the consequences of the Welser-Möst
gale from the pit, and I have rarely been so aware that his middle range
tends to lag behind while he has no problem with the top notes. It will be
good to see him in different roles, but I feel that his middle voice lacks
the weight and projection needed for this one. He was outstanding in the
always much anticipated aria Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano.
Polish baritone Tomasz Konieczny was a convincing and truly evil Jack Rance
on stage, but vocally he fell below par. His middle range lacks weight, and
his voice had some difficulty reaching the audicence. In my opinion Jack
Rance requires a darker voice than his.
The numerous secondary
characters were well covered. Boaz Daniel as Sonora was the best. Norbert
Ernst offered a small-size voice as Nick, and Paolo Rumetz was of slight
interest as Ashby, the Wells-Fargo agent. Juliette Mars as Wowkle, together
with Jongmin Park (Billy Jackrabbit) and Alessio Arduini (José Castro), left
The Staatsoper was again fully sold out. Nina
Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann were triumphantly received at their final bows,
and Tomasz Konieczny was greeted with cheers (and some sonorous booing).