Puccini La Fanciulla del West (DVD)
Emily Magee, Roberto Aronica, Claudio Sgura, Bruno Lazzaretti, John Paul Huckle; Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro di San Carlo/Juraj Valčuha; dir. Hugo de Ana (Naples, 2018)
Dynamic CD: CDS7816.02; DVD: 37816; Blu-ray: 57816 144 mins
Posters for silent movies by such directors as DW Griffith hang on a huge front curtain, torn down by Jack Rance to reveal the Polka saloon – more pop-up bar than a frontier whiskey joint. Did Puccini take his cue for Fanciulla from how the West was won in early American cinema? Given the play on which it is based was a melodrama by David Belasco, and that theatrical melodrama is the beating heart of Griffith’s movies, director and designer Hugo de Ana is shooting an interesting idea.
Sadly, there’s little that’s truly cinematic in this production until the final-reel rescue. Set against a lowering sky with an untamed landscape that rises to meet it, the Polka Saloon, Minnie’s Hut and an improvised place of execution dominated by a Wells Fargo stagecoach, is each conjured by the simple rearrangement of a handful of beams and spars. Where’s the super realism of the silent cinema?
Puccini’s score still jerks the tears as the miners yearn for home; and Minnie playing poker for Dick Johnson’s life is as thrilling as ever. The problems begin in the pit with a flat-footed account by Juraj Valčuha, San Carlo’s current music director. Claudio Sgura’s Rance is good at sneering but lacks the dark vocal tones necessary for villainy; Roberto Aronica is a handsome Dick Johnson in every sense of the word; and the American Emily Magee is a Wagnerian-voiced Minnie who somehow bypasses the god-fearing naivety suggested in the libretto. But you do cheer when, racing against time, she rescues Johnson from the rope; and as the lovers sing their farewells and walk off into the sunrise, you may wish you’d spent more time at the movies.