Puccini: La fanciulla del West

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: La fanciulla del West
PERFORMER: Eva Marton, Dennis O’Neill, Alain Fondary, Walter Plante; Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60597 2 DDD
‘La fanciulla del West, I believe, has turned out to be the best opera I’ve ever written,’ Puccini claimed after the completion of this gloriously schmaltzy piece. Though few would probably agree with his assertion, the opera contains some wonderful music and, depending on the singers, some emotionally-wrought (melo)drama.

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Unfortunately, however, this cast falls short of the dramatic requirements. Eva Marton is wholly unconvincing in the title role. Her harsh, hysterical tone, with its distinctive wobble, verges on shrillness and she gives no hint of Minnie’s essential strength, passion or evident attractiveness. Alain Fondary’s thin Rance is similarly disappointing. His ‘Dalla mia casa son partito’ is syrupy and maudlin and elsewhere there is no sense of the character’s inherent brutality or unscrupulousness. Only Dennis O’Neill’s impassioned Dick Johnson really succeeds in providing a credibly defined character.

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The disc is redeemed to an extent by a dazzling performance from the Munich Radio Orchestra (particularly its finely balanced quadruple woodwind) under Leonard Slatkin, but its expansive dynamic range results in some alarming and irritating imbalances in the volume. This was also a problem with Sony’s otherwise excellent live recording of the opera with Domingo earlier this year. Mara Zampieri’s somewhat tubular voice may not be to all tastes, but in every other respect it is a version that leaves this one standing. Claire Wrathall