Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
Melody Moore, et al; Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Lawrence Foster (Pentatone)
La Fanciulla del West
Melody Moore, Marius Vlad, Lester Lynch, Amitai Pati; Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Lawrence Foster
Pentatone PTC 5186 778 132:48 mins (2 discs)
Premiered in 1910 at the New York Met with an all-star cast – Toscanini conducted, with Caruso singing the role of redeemed bandit Dick Johnson – The Girl of the Golden West enjoyed an initial flurry of international success and then largely disappeared from the repertoire. In 1977 an acclaimed Royal Opera House production led to a classic recording – Zubin Mehta conducting, Domingo at his peak – and renewed interest in the work itself: as Alexandra Wilson points out in her authoritative notes, it’s one of Puccini’s most ambitious and accomplished scores.
While it cannot boast the big names of Mehta’s 1978 set, Pentatone’s new cast is a respectable one. Melody Moore’s Minnie offers a lyrical approach, her fleshy tone reinforcing her humanity. As Johnson, Marius Vlad’s tenor lacks an authentic Italianate sound and is not always graceful, but there’s plenty of heft and in broad terms he delivers the vocal goods. The hard-edged, dark mahogany tone of Lester Lynch brings him conviction as Sheriff Jack Rance.
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Smaller roles generally go well: Amitai Pati makes his presence felt as bartender Nick, and Gustavo Castillo’s Jake Wallace is touching in his infinitely moving solo. The Romanian orchestra does a decent job with the challenging score, though balance and ensemble are occasional problems; but Puccini’s super-enriched pre-Hollywood film-score soundworld ideally needs greater sweep than conductor Lawrence Foster brings to it. The sound, somewhat raw and enclosed, could also do with a greater sense of perspective.
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