La fan­ci­ulla del West

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - La fan­ci­ulla del West. fan­ci­ulla; La fan­ci­ulla’s La

Santa Fe Opera opened its 60th sea­son with Gi­a­como Puc­cini’s It’s no use pre­tend­ing that Puc­cini’s histri­onic horse opera is a bet­ter stage work than it is. Writ­ten to a li­bretto by Carlo Zan­garini and Guelfo Civinini, who de­rived their text from David Be­lasco’s hit play The Girl of the Golden West, the opera pre­miered in 1910. For Amer­i­can view­ers to­day, the comedic may eas­ily over­shadow the tragic in a tale of char­ac­ters in the Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush who speak and sing in Ital­ian (at least when they’re not shout­ing out “Hello!” which they do of­ten) and rub shoul­ders with Na­tive Amer­i­cans who ac­tu­ally say “Ugh.” The open­ing night au­di­ence gig­gled a great deal, an hon­est re­sponse to an opera that jibes un­easily with mod­ern mores.

The piece was strongly cast. So­prano Pa­tri­cia Racette took on the role of Min­nie for the first time in her ca­reer and did it proud, em­brac­ing the part’s vo­cal de­mands with se­cu­rity. She is less no­table for vo­cal lux­ury or tim­bral shad­ing than for her ca­pac­ity to put across a text with dra­matic cer­tainty. Time and again her lit­tle so­lil­o­quies drew view­ers into the realm of her deeply per­sonal hopes and dreams.

Tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones made a firm im­pres­sion as Dick John­son, the ban­dit who ar­rives in­tend­ing to rob Min­nie’s saloon but in­stead steals her heart. He has a more lyri­cal voice than many singers who take on this part, but he boasts an ap­peal­ing, bright tim­bre and taut fo­cus. Bari­tone Mark Dela­van gave a vo­cally solid per­for­mance as Jack Rance, the preda­tory sher­iff who wishes Min­nie loved him in­stead of Dick John­son.

One of strong­est suits is its sym­phonic writ­ing. It is a beau­ti­ful and in­trigu­ing score, mark­ing an un­likely point where De­bussyan del­i­cacy makes a leap to­ward the hearty soundtracks of John Ford’s film West­erns. Con­duc­tor Em­manuel Vil­laume some­times gave his play­ers too free a rein, re­peat­edly threat­en­ing to swamp the singers.

If any opera in­vites open­ing the back of the Santa Fe Opera’s stage to the Je­mez Moun­tains, it must be

our opera house is al­ready in a glo­ri­ous land­scape of the Amer­i­can West. In­stead, the piece un­rolls on an en­tirely closed stage. It is un­usual that scenic de­sign is the weak­est part of an opera pro­duc­tion, but Miriam Buether’s sets di­min­ish the piece. Min­nie’s Polka saloon is a mod­est in­dus­trial hangar, or maybe a large car­port, that might have been imag­ined by the ar­chi­tects at Tuff Shed.

Cos­tumes, by Nicky Gil­li­brand, were all over the map, not un­der­scor­ing any sense of pe­riod speci­ficity. The stage di­rec­tion seemed some­times un­der­done. One wished, for ex­am­ple, that Min­nie ac­tu­ally shot her pis­tol at her en­trance rather than a bit af­ter, that wounded Dick John­son didn’t spend so much time just propped in the cor­ner of her room ooz­ing blood, and that there could be more piz­zazz to Min­nie and Dick head­ing off to their fu­ture while pro­claim­ing “Ad­dio, mia Cal­i­for­nia!”

Ad­di­tional per­for­mances of “La fan­ci­ulla del West” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 8, 13, 17, 23, and 27.

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