La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

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La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  Dominic McHugh on Wed Sep 17, 2008 3:28 am

I know it's a favourite for many people, but in spite of the fine orchestral writing I can never get to grips with La fanciulla del West. The Wild West cliches, the wafer-thin plot and characters, and the slow pacing of the whole are just insurmountable for me. I can imagine the three acts being condensed into a brilliant three-scene one-act hour-long opera, but I don't find the same quality as in most of Puccini's other works; I even prefer Manon Lescaut and La rondine, both of which are maligned in some quarters. Maybe it's because I prefer female voices, too. I'll be interested to see/hear others' reactions. In the meantime, my review is here:

http://www.musicalcriticism.com/opera/roh-fanciulla-0908.shtml

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La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  Janet Woodall on Wed Sep 17, 2008 5:22 pm

Glad it's not just me. I can't cope with La fancuilla - I don't mind this particular production and even feel quite fondly toward it as it was the first version I saw (prob 20 years ago) but as hard as I try, I cannot buy into the opera. The wild west theme leaves me completely cold - I struggle to take any of it seriously. I saw the previous revival and decided then that I should probably give up trying to like it.

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  Dominic McHugh on Wed Sep 17, 2008 6:34 pm

I'm glad it's not just me either.

A couple more reviews have now come out:

Evening Standard - 3 stars
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/music/show-23576509-details/The+Royal+Opera:+La+Fanciulla+Del+West/showReview.do?reviewId=23556545

The Stage - more positive, ' a great night for the Royal Opera - and for Puccini.' - but since the reviewer wrote one of the programme notes, it's no surprise to discover he likes the piece.
http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/21794/la-fanciulla-del-west

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  hugo on Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:22 pm

I'm going to have to put in a word of defence for poor old Minnie and Dick. I've always had a bit of a soft-spot for Fanciulla but agree that it's probably better musically than it is dramatically. I have to admit to listening to the old Tebaldi/Del Monaco recording for years on CD without ever really feeling the need to find out what on earth was going on. I think the Royal Opera's production does the work few favours for an additional reason I don't think has been mentioned. The opera itself only lasts for about 2hrs and 10 minutes. At last night's performance we had two intervals lasting 35 minutes each (although I'm sure they both over-ran a little too). I know the sets need this amount of time to be dismantled and rebuilt but having to spend so much time milling about in the bar waiting for the next act to start does the opera no favours. This is especially bad in the case of the final act, which is shorter than the interval that precedes it... With just one interval after the first act, the pacing of the second and third acts would probably be far more convincing and the third act would probably seem a bit less anticlimactic.

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  Jngarratt on Mon Sep 22, 2008 6:02 pm

I've never really warmed to this opera or this production. I'm not quite sure why - I like the Wild West setting and I like some of the music but it doesn't gell for me.

Maybe something of that is the production, I find the intervals drag and the set just seems old not "vintage". I much prefer the old set that they use at ROH for La Boheme, which is just charming.

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  BigCat on Tue Sep 23, 2008 10:00 am

I also have the Tebaldi/ Del Monaco recording, but I have to admit that I never enjoyed listening to it until I saw a production on the stage. I think you really need to see what's going on in order to appreciate it. I also think it's his best opera by far.

The current (20years old?) ROH production still works for me particularly the first act in the Polka, but I have to agree with hugo about the last interval, it just kills the drama.

I was there last Tuesday, and thought Papano's conducting as lush as ever, with good performances all round. Cura's awkwardness actually suits this role to the ground.

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La Fanciulla at Covent garden

Post  Mike Reynolds on Tue Sep 23, 2008 2:58 pm

By 22 September things had settled down - Cura as dependable as ever, Eva-Maria Westbroek singing more radiantly than word of mouth had led me to believe and a very promising new Jack Rance in the form of Claudio Sgura. He has a fine high baritone (second prize in the Voci Verdiane at Busseto in 2006) and good stage presence - he is about 6 feet 4 inches which helps! The balance between stage and pit still is not right and the orchestra (which played its socks off) often overwhelmed the singers but it was a good value evening - and Pappano must have kept tempi fast because we were out by 10.15pm.
I agree that it all seems very old-fashioned now, and the monumental sets simply force these formulaic chorus groupings. The production at Grange Park in the summer was more interesting, with (perforce) much simpler settings - a single long bar going to a point of perspective in Act One was perfect, and Cynthia Makris as Minnie made the chandeliers ring. Maybe there is so much going on in the orchestra that onstage it really is, or should be, a case of 'less is more'.

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  Linda on Tue Sep 23, 2008 10:43 pm

The music everyone recognises from the Spaghetti Westerns etc. are NOT cliches: Puccini created them! Others, later plagiarised Puccini's music. Belasco gave Puccini, Jack Rance's particular tune, from his own experience in the Wild West.

I saw Jose Cura again, last week, in Fanciulla. Even better than ever, with his sudden meeting of Minnie and his awkwardness at being in love for the first time. Fantastic acting!

I agree with Hugo, about the last interval being longer than the last Act. We don't want to wait that long...................

The other year, Opera Holland Park's production was splendid. Even with their limited sets: the evening was passionate and moving. It was good to see the regular, small chorus, having named parts and seeing their interpretations.

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No one dies...........

Post  owlclarke on Sun Sep 28, 2008 12:35 am

Sadly in this piece no one dies and I think that is why (for me anyway) the overall work lacks an overall punch...... Musically there is some glorious music and Pappano bnrings out every possible colour in the orchestration and there is some very fine singing and I think the production looks wonderful after 20 years! Though the long intervals it causes do become slightly tedious! There is some great singing in the production though I find "Eva M-W" a little shrill at the top and some of her acting is for me a little mannered. Cura is gorgeous as ever and has a wonderful voice but he for me doesn't thrill!!! But I think the main problem with any production of this piece is that it lacks an overall emotional punch! The 2nd act is the most interesting because there is tension!

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Re: La fanciulla del West at Covent Garden

Post  BigCat on Sun Sep 28, 2008 3:30 am

Dominic, I've since read your review and have to say that although I don't share your opinions on the opera, in the main I agree with your assessment of the performance and production in general.

I'm glad you mentioned the orchestra drowning out the singers on occasion, I thought it was just me and where I was sitting on the sidelines. I believe the poor lighting referred to is actually as result of the gauze draped over the front of the whole set during the entire performance (did you notice the Safety Curtain didn't come down in the interval?)

It's true that Silvano Carroli is getting on, and in fact on more than one occasion was unsteady on his feet, but there was something about the characterization in his voice that really struck me. His use of the language is more than just idiomatic, and as a native Italian speaker, I felt that he could quite easily have delivered his lines in a non-lyric setting with conviction - sadly, a trait that harks to an all-too-sorely-missed bygone era.

Eric Halfvarson is luxury casting indeed, although I'm not suggesting for a moment that Peter Katona should use that as an excuse to dumb the role down in future, rather more of the same all round. I remember meeting Hugh Francis as a V***r Young Artist, and it always gives me a chuckle when he gets to yell out "Australiano d'inferno!"

As for the opera itself, the first act is so important. Belasco brought his first hand experience to the stage in a vivid way. We get to see a three dimensional view of the characters, in particular the secondary roles, after all there are enough of them. It's also important to establish the deification of Minnie which is the cause of so much friction between her would-be suitors and her "followers". Without it, the last act would be farcical, it would be another Turandot. We wouldn't suspend disbelief when she asks the miners to pardon Johnson. Rance sees it coming, hence why he panics and tries to rush the hanging, a moment interpreted well by Cariolli.

The second act is brilliant combining both sexual conquest (if you will) and conquest of the life and death game - grounds for an X rating on the video?

Boheme was my introduction to Opera, but The Girl has easily become my favourite Puccini, and surely his best.

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La Fanciulla ROH 26 September

Post  hagen1947 on Sun Sep 28, 2008 3:47 pm

Jose Cura says this is the ideal opera to introduce young people to opera. I would agree. This is my favourite Puccini opera and I have been singing along to the 1956 La Scala recording with Frazzoni, Corelli and Gobbi and marvellous conducting from Votto all summer. My 27 year old daughter said Ok I have never been let's go and see it. So we went on Friday night. She liked the production and the lighting but as for the three main singers in the words of Craig Revel Horwood D U L L. I was embarrassed by such lacklustre performances. Where was the Westbroek of Sieglinde or the Lady Macbeth of Mensk? The Rance of Claudio S was a mere cypher. OK she liked Cura of the three but that lack of intensity undermined the performance. It sounded like a Friday performance at the end of the wek or they couldn't wait for the end of the run. Thank God she had not listened to Frazzoni, Corelli and Gobbi on the way up she might have wanted to leave after Act One. I have always thought the Golden Age of Singing was a myth until Friday night at Covent Garden where since 1976 I have some of the most amazing Wagner experiences of my life with the likes of McIntyre, Jones, Remedios, Tomlinson, Clark, Rydl and Bullock.

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