University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

04/08/2018 1:00 pm
04/08/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

"The Girl of the Golden West," (1910) may be Giacomo Puccini's "American" opera, but in style its music is pure Italian verismo. The composer looked to a stage play by American playwright David Belasco for the story of this opera, set in California in the days of the Gold Rush of the 1850s. From a compositional standpoint La Fanciulla is perhaps Puccini's most perfect score. Other twentieth century composers greatly admired it. Richard Strauss declared that he himself would have loved to have composed its second act.

"The Girl of the Golden West" premiered in New York City at the old Met and was a total triumph for Puccini. The diva Emmy Destinn starred as Minnie opposite the immortal Enrico Caruso as the outlaw Dick Johnson. I have broadcast Puccini's golden masterpiece twice before, drawing upon recordings that employed the golden voices of opera luminaries of the later twentieth century. On Sunday, September 20, 1992 I aired a then brand new Sony Classical CD release of the 1991 La Scala production starring soprano Mara Zampieri opposite tenor Placido Domingo. Following that live-on-stage recording, on Sunday, November 26, 2000 came an historic recording taped in Rome in very early stereophonic sound in 1958. Renata Tebaldi sang Minnie and Mario del Monaco portrayed Dick. Decca/London reissued that classic Fanciulla on digitally remastered CDs.

Today we turn to yet another historic recording, made for EMI at La Scala in 1959. Lovro von Matacic was conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the La Scala Opera House, Milan. Minnie here is the well-remembered Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson, supported by a cast of all-Italian singers except for the Brazilian tenor Joao Gibin, who sang Dick. In this broadcast I make use of the old original Angel stereo LPs.