Puccini: La fanciulla del West

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: La fanciulla del West
PERFORMER: Eva-Maria Westbroek, Lucio Gallo, Zoran Todorovich; Netherlands Opera Chorus; Netherlands PO/Carlo Rizzi; dir. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Amsterdam, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1039 Blu-ray OA BD 7075 D

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The Girl of the Golden West is fragile enough as it is, beset with horse-opera clichés. However, as recent productions have shown, it can be made to work, most reliably by embracing the reality behind those clichés. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, though, undermines all this by turning the opera into a random parade of sullenly camp anti-Americana. The overture accompanies projections of manic Wall Street traders. Minnie’s saloon becomes a sinister gay-SM bar populated by jerky zombies; Jake Wallace is an Elvis imitator.

Her cabin is a trailer dressing room in hot-pink plush. The forest is a car scrapyard, through which Minnie, dressed as Jean Harlow, enters down a bulb-blazing Hollywood staircase; and the lovers stroll off, not into the sunset but into a $20 bill. In short, Lehnhoff replaces one set of clichés with another, less innocent.

Wastefully so, for this is well enough handled, and the recording is good – the Blu-ray in particular brings out the slick sets and good-looking principals. Eva-Maria Westbroek would be a fine Minnie somewhere else. Zoran Todorovich sings forcefully, but he’s a stodgy outlaw – John Payne rather than John Wayne; while the staging robs Lucio Gallo’s dark-voiced Rance of most dramatic impact.

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You’d be far better off with the atmospheric Covent Garden video, with a nearly definitive cast headed by Domingo, Carol Neblett, and Silvano Carroli. Or, if you must have HD, a new version of the Met’s passable staging is expected. It won’t be worse than this. Michael Scott Rohan