Met's "Girl of the Golden West": Minnie and the Miners

The Polka Saloon set for "The Girl of the Golden West"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

While it is indeed about Minnie and her miners, that's not the name of a punk rock group, but a reference to the characters inThe Girl of the Golden West or La Fanciulla del West , an opera that is far from one of Giacomo Puccini's best-known or frequently performed works. This may perhaps be due to its somewhat outrageous plot, written by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini after a play by American David Belasco (who also wrote the play on which Madame Butterfly is based). The Metropolitan Opera actually commissioned the opera back in 1910 from Puccini himself, and the company has brought back its most recent production in a Live in HD broadcast, certain that its less familiar music will carry the day, despite the undeniable fact that any resemblance to the true American West of 1849-1850, golden or otherwise, is purely coincidental. The plot is also relatively unknown, so a synopsis, even of its simple yet surely outlandish story, is in order.

Millie's Cabin in "The Girl of the Golden West"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

At the Polka Saloon in the foothills of the Cloudy Mountains of California, miners including Sonora (baritone Michael Todd Simpson), bartender Nick (tenor Carlo Bosi) and the traveling minstrel Jake Wallace (bass Oren Gradus) all share a love for Minnie (soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek), the bar's owner, as does Sheriff Jack Rance (baritone Zeljko Lucic), whom Minnie rejects. The Wells Fargo agent Ashby (bass Matthew Rose) arrives to tell them he is after a bandit. A Stranger (tenor Jonas Kaufmann) who calls himself Dick Johnson arrives, whom Minnie recognizes. The miners drag in an outlaw, Jose Castro (baritone Kidon Choi) who pretends he will lead them to the hideout of the gang led by the bandit Ramerrez; he whispers to Johnson (whose real identity is that of Ramerrez) that he let them capture him so that he could trick them. Left alone, Minnie and Johnson are attracted to one another, and she shyly invites him to her cabin. There they proclaim their mutual love, but he hides when they hear shots. Rance enters to tell Minnie he has uncovered Johnson's true identity. After Rance leaves, she confronts Johnson, who says he is giving up the life of a bandit since he met her, but she sends him away. Another shot is heard and Johnson, wounded, staggers in. She hides him in her attic as Rance enters to search for the fugitive. When blood drops down from the attic, Johnson's hiding place is revealed. Minnie challenges Rance to a poker game wherein if he wins, she is his, but if she wins, Johnson will go free. Minnie wins, by cheating, and nurses Johnson back to health. The miners enter, determined to hang him, but she pleads with them, reminding them how much they all owe to her. They release Johnson and the two leave to start a new life together.

Westbroek & Hoffman in "The Girl of the Golden West"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

While the score may not be as familiar to audiences as his other works, Puccini managed to provide some memorable melody, so much so that Andrew Lloyd Webber notoriously was sued by the Puccini estate (and settled out of court) for his use of a theme Puccini repeats half a dozen times and shows up in the music for Lloyd Webber's song “Music of the Night” from his musical The Phantom of the Opera. In this production, the three leads, Westbroek, Kaufmann and Lucic shone (even if Westbroek ultimately stole the show), and the supporting singers, including the male Met Opera Chorus, were all one could ask for. This performance was Conducted by Mario Armiliato. The Production was by Giancarlo del Monaco, with Set and Costume Design by Michael Scott, Lighting Design by Gil Wechsler, and Stage Direction by Gregory Keller. The Chorus Master was the ubiquitous Donald Palumbo, and the Live in HD Director was Gary Halvorson. The Live in HD Host was Susanna Phillips.

And there's still gold in them thar hills, with an encore broadcast next Weds. Oct. 31st.

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