[Met Performance] CID:189000

Opening Night {77}, New Production, General Manager: Rudolf Bing

La Fanciulla del West
Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, October 23, 1961

Debut : Andrea Velis, Henry Butler, Gerald L. Ritholz

La Fanciulla del West (41)
Giacomo Puccini | Guelfo Civinini/Carlo Zangarini
Leontyne Price

Dick Johnson
Richard Tucker

Jack Rance
Anselmo Colzani

Andrea Velis [Debut]

George Cehanovsky

Robert Nagy

Roald Reitan

Calvin Marsh

Clifford Harvuot

Gabor Carelli

Jim Larkens
Theodor Uppman

Paul Franke

Jake Wallace
Ezio Flagello

Norman Scott

Post Rider
Frank D'Elia

Louis Sgarro

Billy Jackrabbit
Gerhard Pechner

Margaret Roggero

Fausto Cleva

Henry Butler [Debut]

Gerald L. Ritholz [Debut]

Wolfgang Roth

La Fanciulla del West received thirteen performances this season.
The sets and costumes were borrowed from Lyric Opera of Chicago. Arrangement of the physical production, which in Chicago had been revised by Gerald L. Ritholz, on the Met stage was supervised by Wolfgang Roth.

Review 1:

Review of October 26 of Leighton Kerner in The Village Voice

At last the truth has come out! The old, wild West, and more specifically, California at the time of the 1849 Gold Rush, was strictly Italian territory, where gold-seekers and gamblers went for their guns with Mediterranean fury and Indians pronounced "Ugh!" as "Oog!"

Puccini and Leontyne Price and about 150 accomplices on stage and in the pit on opening night at the Metropolitan Opera last Monday told me so, and their argument was emphatically convincing.

You may walk into a performance of Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West," (the urtext-after the fact-of David Belasco's "The Girl of the Golden West") prepared to jeer at the idea of a bunch of "ragazzi" stepping up to the bar in Minnie's (Miss Price's) saloon and ordering "whiskey per tutti," or at the thought of Richard Tucker, as a bandit, entering Minnie's cabin with a "Hello" and being greeted with a "Buona sera," but the five minutes after the first-act curtain has been raised, a blind belief sets in, and Puccini shoves Hart Crane and Zane Grey and the others off the shelf.

Much of this conviction was due the other night to Miss Price, who not only acts with her resplendent near-dramatic soprano voice, but with her whole being, and to Italian baritone Anselmo Colzani as Sheriff Jack Rance, who made the most florid gesture seem the most natural and who, for the first time, earns the right to be considered a star in his own right and not just a utilitarian replacement made use of because Leonard Warren is no longer around. Richard Tucker, who makes no pretense at being an actor, sang like the supreme tenor he is and seemed pretty much swept into the emotional current by his colleagues.

The score has been much reviled and, if you consider the heavy re-use of the "Butterfly"-"Tosca" style and occasional re-use of melodies from these two operas, carping may not be out of place. But, there is much in this work that is unlike any other Puccini, both in musical interest and genuine theatrical punch, notably in the scene where Minnie cheats Rance at poker to save the bandit's life. Positively bloodcurdling!

In this production, by the way, Henry Butler, now at the Opera House, has worked up the wild first half-hour of the opera (gambling, drinking, fighting and other assorted activities) into the most tumultuously exciting piece of staging in the Met's repertoire.

From the

Review 2:

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times

Last night's performance was brilliant. The Chicago sets, completely realistic, set the mood. Henry Butler, in his debut at the Metropolitan, staged the performance with skill, handling the crowd scenes deftly making the best of the awkward situations of the libretto. A Western he was given, a Western he gave, complete with professional-looking gunplay, cowboys (pardon, miners) who looked the part; and he had his people acting with dignity.

The three principals were splendid. Indeed, the entire cast was. Of the eighteen members in this "American" opera, fourteen were Americans. Noblesses oblige. Leontyne Price acted well and sang beautifully, up to the soaring C's that dot the part. Richard Tucker had no high C's to worry about.

Puccini wrote one in as part of the second-act duet, but he himself sanctioned the cut, and it was so, cut last night, as it traditionally is. There was one other cut - in the first act; the entire sequence where Sid is caught cheating at cards.

Mr. Tucker employed his voice to fine advantage. He sounded clear, even clarion, and he gave a convincing impersonation. The best acting of the evening, however, came from Anselmo Colzani as Jack Rance, the Sheriff. Aside from one or two typically Italianate gestures, he went through his part with all the aplomb of a heavy in a cowboy film. And vocally he did all that could have been desired.

Fausto Cleva conducted. He is a veteran of the Italian wing of the Metropolitan Opera, and he also was a friend of Puccini's. Mr. Cleva not only worked well with his singers -that he always does - but also brought a good deal of force and personality to his conducting. In this kind of repertoire he is first-class. One could go so far as to say that he is one of the most underestimated conductors on the Metropolitan staff.

And so, "Fanciulla del West" ended implausibly, with the lovers riding in to the sunset singing addio to California. (Presumably they make a sharp turn before hitting the Pacific.) It is a show worth seeing. The libretto is good, corny fun; and the music has some marvelous things. And the kind of tight, accurate production that the Metropolitan is giving sets off in the best light whatever the opera does have to offer. It should be around for a long time to come, now that the ice has been broken.

From the

Review 3:

Review of Paul Henry Lang in the Herald Tribune

Well, like I say, I've heard of all kinds of Westerns, but this must be the first one that was played to the accompaniment of a big orchestra so expansive that the Met doesn't even know yet how much it will cost. Also, Puccini is a lot better than a hack movie arranger even though this is pretty low grade Puccini.

And of course in no Western has any one heard such singing - it was really glorious. Leontyne Price must now be considered one of the truly great divas of our time. This young woman has a magnificent, warm, soaring, lustrous, and pliable voice which she handles with impeccable musicianship, and her acting showed that she studied not only her own role but the implications of the entire libretto - such as it is. Richard Tucker may be forcing a bit here and there, but he still is the best tenor in the business, and when the two sang together we indeed needed the Wells Fargo man from the cast to cart away all the floating gold notes.

Anselmo Colzani, the robust sheriff, is a fine baritone with a good-sized and attractive voice, and convincing stage temperament. Occasionally a somewhat dry and flat tone escaped from is throat, but that may have been due to attempted realism. The supporting cast -- fifteen strong - contributed enough good voice to stock a fair sized opera house with excellent principals.

The ancient sets were pretty awful but they were borrowed. On the other hand, praise is due to the direction of Henry Butler, who with commendable shrewdness realized that this silly thing must be served up to Americans as if it were done in Milan for Italians. In English and with realistic American touches, "Fanciulla" would be sheer disaster. The presence of horses is not Western realism. Though of course fraught with certain hazards, horses on the opera stage represent a status symbol -- no small opera can afford them.

The music of this opera is saddening. The Puccini stamp is there, as is his immense savoir-faire, but real and convincing dramatic melody flares up only once or twice. Repeatedly Puccini makes you feel that the lush tune is just around the corner, but after a few wing beats the music resumes it course, vacillating between Debussy and Strauss, which is not becoming to this fine and original composer.

It is quite conceivable that "Fanciulla" will be a popular success. The singing is superlative, the acting excellent, and the goings-on often unintentionally amusing; after all, "Martha" also hit the jackpot. Nevertheless, I find it a bit embarrassing to celebrate the saving of the Met and "the elevation of the human spirit" (President Kennedy to Secretary Goldberg) with a work that is clearly not destined to survive.

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