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Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West
Emily Magee (Minnie), Roberto Aronica (Dick Johnson), Claudio Sgura (Jack Rance), Bruno Lazzaretti (Nick), John Paul Huckle (Ashby), Gianfranco Montresor (Sonora), Paolo Orecchia (Sid), Antonello Ceron (Trin), Tommaso Barea (Bello), Orlando Polidoro (Harry), Enrico Cossutta (Joe), Ivan Marino (Happy), Donato Di Gioia (Larkens), Enrico Marchesini (Billy Jackrabbit), Alessandra Visentin (Wowkle), Carlo Checchi (Jake Wallace), Francesco Musinu (José Castro), Armando Valentino (un postiglione), Orchestra and Chorus of the Theater of San Carlo, Marco Faelli (chorus master), Juraj Valcuha (conductor), Hugo de Ana (stage director, set and costume designer), Vinicio Cheli (lighting designer), Tiziano Mancini (video director)
Recording: Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, Italy (December 2017) – 144’
Dynamic DYN-37816 (or Blu-ray DYN-57186) – Dolby Digital 5.1 – PCM 2.0 – Picture format 16:9 – Region 0 – Booklet in Italian and English – Subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean (Distributed by Naxos of America)

Those hailing from California with special fondness for The Sierras (as is the case with this reviewer) always find La fanciulla del West a treat whenever it surfaces, and in this case, Hugo de Ana’s opulently period-appropriate, rustic production won’t disappoint as a whole. Since M. de Ana controls costuming as well as sets, this adds an immeasurable stamp of detailed consistency. Juraj Valcuha’s relatively brisk pace and bountiful shading is also a strong surplus with perceptive lighting by Vinicio Cheli.

Sadly, La fanciulla del West frequently gets glossed over in a Puccini line-up, yet this 1910 creation has its own nucleus of vocally demanding challenges. With Emily Magee’s repertoire encased as a lyrical dramatic soprano, she penetrates into deeper terrain in this full-dramatic role. Though her rough-around-the-edges convinces, her softness and amorousness (towards Dick Johnson) is a tad aloof. One of the great qualities in her character portrayal is the facial nuances that are keenly captured in video edits by Tiziano Mancini.

Since Roberto Aronica’s heavy roster rests inside the world of Italian opera, this positions him as the quintessential Dick Johnson: a disciplined, stalwart tenor with a superior vocal carriage. The engagement between the two protagonists is not completely stellar, but it certainly generates respectful frisson. Claudio Sgura’s arrogant look and baritone bravado, as Jack Rance, floods with sinister impressions: the swagger never overestimates though his lecherous advances towards Minnie trend mildly, underplaying the histrionics of this rugged Western.

Because Act II is the strongest, theatrically, there’s an unusual “plus factor” by way of Wowkle and Billy Jackrabbit. These two characters, who open the act, never directly move the plot forward; however, in this instance de Ana fashions them with demure pizzazz and sarcastic humor: Alessandra Visenti and Enrico Marchesini vaguely shift their têt-à-têt into a droll quasi-comedy. It’s subtly clever. Indeed, M. Mancini intelligently collects their innocuous behavior. Marco Faelli gives Wagnerian weight to La fanciulla through the delivery by the all-male chorus, and the choral scenes inside Act I and Act III are balanced and poignant.

Several DVD recordings of La fanciulla del West are already on the market with prominent heroines: Carol Neblett, Nina Stemme, Deborah Voigt, Daniela Dessi and Mara Zampieri, to name a few. While selection is still somewhat limited (in comparison to other operas), this 2017 production highlighting Emily Magee adds yet another plausible name to the opera’s roster.

Christie Grimstad




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