'Fanciulla' promises to become a second 'Boheme,' but more powerful, bolder and broader, said Puccini of his unique melodrama in which Italian opera meets the wild, wild West. "La Fanciulla del West" boasts brilliant music... more »al themes, drawing on American folk music for inspiration. It tells the story of a gold rush bandit who is redeemed by the power of love. The incomparable Placido Domingo stars as the renegade Dick Johnson, and soprano Mara Zempieri ignites the stage with her stirring portrayal of Minnie, the woman who lassos his heart and changes his life. Conducted by Lorin Maazel, the orchestra of La Scala and an extraordinary cast bring Puccini's masterpiece vividly to life.« less
"The editorial review on these pages doesn't do La Fanciulla Del West justice. This is an opera on the same scale of achievement as La Boheme or Tosca. In many ways it contains the best elements of both those operas: the tenderness and human frailty of Boheme, and the dramatic pulse of Tosca. Furthermore, it was Puccini's most innovative and daring score to date, and listening to it today one is struck by how "modern" this 1910 opera sounds. The opera's Wild West setting is often sneered at, but it is no more ridiculous than the locale of the vast majority of operas. All that is required to enjoy this opera is a full-blooded sense of romanticism. Some listeners are disappointed at the lack of saccharine in Puccini's music (especially compared to the Big Three of Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly), but in many ways La Fanciulla is all the more satisfying for its sparer melodic invention, and emphasis on music that underlines the dramatic goings-on rather than overdosing on the more "commercial tunes" of Puccini's earlier work. That's not to say there aren't crowd-pleasers in this opera - the tenor's Ch'ella Mi Creda is proof of that. But for the most part, the arias in this opera are so thoroughly integrated into the action that they don't stand out as discrete numbers to the first-time listener. Don't get me wrong, though - this IS a highly melodic opera, with scenes and arias as memorable as anything Puccini ever wrote. Jack Rance's Minnie Dalla Mia Casa, and Dick Johnson's dramatic Or Son Sei Mesi (which brings down the house in this performance) represent Puccini at his best. But often it is a phrase or a reflective moment in the score that leaves the greatest impression, such as when Dick Johnson looks at Minnie and sings almost conversationally: "When I look at you, I realise what I might have been." In such moments Puccini achieves the kind of musical "truth" that makes the listener say: "Yes, this is real life, or at least, life as it should be." As always with Puccini, his characterisations are fully three-dimensional, and indeed, the only thing preventing this opera from enjoying wider acclaim is that so little of its music can be readily "lifted" from the score in excerpt form.I have loved La Fanciulla since the age of 20, when I was lucky enough to see (and meet) Domingo at Covent Garden in November 1982. I saw two performances of the opera; on alternate nights Domingo was partnered by Carol Neblett and Marilyn Zschau. Unfortunately it was the lesser Neblett version that was first released on video - good though she was, her poor diction and whitish timbre grated, and the performance lacked fire in the orchestral and choral departments. This is an opera that requires in the role of Minnie a soprano with stentorian power, great top notes AND a beautiful timbre. A tall order, perhaps, but one which Mara Zampieri comes close to achieving in this 1991 production from La Scala.Zampieri has an unusual voice. Her timbre will not be to all tastes, I suspect, but I enjoyed her singing very much, notwithstanding several moments of suspect intonation. She doesn't QUITE reach the standard set by Barbara Daniel in the latter's definitive 1992 portrayal at the Met (also with Domingo, and available on video), but this is pretty satisfying nonetheless.Domingo, at the age of fifty, sounds almost as fresh as he did in the Covent Garden production, and if anything his high B Flats are freer in the celebrated Ch'ella Mi Creda than they were nine years earlier. He acts extremely well, and for my money this is his defining role (much more so than Otello), and his well-documented love for the role is abundantly obvious.Juan Pons is the most sympathetic Sheriff Rance that I have yet seen. His voice lends itself towards sympathy with its warm timbre reminiscent of a well-aged port. It's not an overly resonant voice - nor even a particularly large and powerful instrument - but I found his Jack Rance a thoroughly believable characterisation. (Interested viewers will no doubt want to compare Pons' performance with the much more malevolent Sherill Milnes interpretation in the 1992 Met production. Both have a lot going for them.)The chorus act well, but vocally need more cohesion and fire at several crucial moments - the capture of Dick Johnson's henchman in Act 1, and the capture of Johnson himself in Act 3, for example - and were noticeably off-key on a couple of occasions. Having said that, they certainly look the part of tough miners, and ultimately their lapses are relatively minor.Among the supporting cast, special praise should go to Antonio Salvadori in the role of Sonora. His baritone voice gives Juan Pons a run for his money, and furthermore he acts brilliantly, giving an often overlooked role genuine significance and pathos. Great stuff.Conductor Lorin Maazel employs unusually slow tempi throughout. I had mixed feelings about his approach, though he does bring out beautiful aspects of the score that I had never detected before. The card scene in Act 2 is riveting in its intensity, and Johnson's walk to the scaffold in Act 3 has never sounded more dramatic.The DVD has excellent sound and visuals. True, Act 2 is rather dark, but this only adds to the atmosphere. Besides, log cabins in the Wild West should look dark!Highly recommended."
D. J. Edwards | Cheshire, CT United States | 04/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Domingo and Zampieri outdo themselves with thrilling tone and dramatic intensity. Another all out performance. They sing as if their lives were in peril. Her card scene with POns is electrifying. Small roles are all movingly done and there are many of them in Puccini's most ambitous score. Newcomers to this work will need patience but they will be well rewarded. Probably not mmore difficult than "Turandot" but "Fanciulla" doesn't have a "Nessun dorma" or "Questa reggia" but in these hands it is thrilling. Give a listen you won't be sorry. Another jewel in La Scala's crown."
Glen Kelly | New York City, NY USA | 06/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Girl Of The Golden West" can often seem a rather silly opera, and it is generally regarded as one of Puccini's second tier works. But this production is so superb that one wonders why it isn't performed as often as Tosca or La Boheme! With terrific acting and singing, this is the best DVD I've seen in this series. Unmissable!"
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 12/11/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Zampieri is breathtaking (also her acting), why doesn't she record more? The whole production is very convincing dramatically - the singing is unparalleld.Very good technically."
saskita | Uruguay | 08/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thanks to this version of "la fanciulla del west" I found out that this opera is one of Puccini's master works. Can be compared with Boheme or Tosca.
Domingo is in wonderful voice and acting.
Zampieri very good, and Pons almost as good as Domingo. Not to mention Maazel who does a wonderful work with the orchestra.
Take my word an try this version. You will end up loving "la fanciulla"."