Jonathan Burton, Franco Pomponi & Michelle Johnson in The Girl of the Golden West.
The Girl of the Golden West
(La Fanciulla Del West)
By Giacomo Puccini
Based upon the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
When you think of the Golden West, what kind of images come across your mind? Cowboys and outlaws? Gold? Saloons full of men drinking, smoking, gambling and cavorting? John Wayne? In La Fanciulla del West, some of that imagery is brought to life.
As the curtain rises we see the interior of the Polka Saloon, the watering hole for the mining town built on the foothills of the Cloudy Mountains during the famous California Gold Rush of 1849. The quaint saloon is quickly filled with dirty and thirsty miners, fresh from the mines seeking their fortunes in gold. One by one the barkeep Nick (Marco Cammarota) fills their glasses with whiskey and answers their collective question, where is Minnie? The ever-shrewd Nick lets each customer know that they are Minnie’s favorite and the sales rise as the miners wait for her.
Who is this Minnie, played beautifully by Michelle Johnson? Is she a favorite showgirl that they’ve all come to see or is she someone entirely different? She is in fact the proprietress of the Polka Saloon and she is a guiding light for the miners: a sister, a friend, a teacher and even mother to the motley, international group of men who long for the homes and families they left behind. Those sentiments are especially moving in Jim, perchè piangi?, sung with great passion by the male chorus.
Wells Fargo agent Ashby (Charles Zachary Owen) enters and alerts the saloon that Ramirrez and his Mexican Outlaws have been spotted. Sheriff Rance (Franco Pomponi) rallies the group and proclaims that Minnie will be his and his alone, which angers Sonora (Michael Preacely) and they begin to fight, only to be interrupted by Minnie firing a warning shot. As you can see, Minnie is a pistol packing, take-charge kind of gal.
The men leave and then a stranger enters who goes by Dick Johnson (Jonathan Burton). Dick claims that he’s from Sacramento and taking a break in the small mining town. As Nick serves Dick a whiskey and water, it is obvious that Minnie knows the stranger and they then share when they met and proceed to dance, all while Rance seethes.
In the second act Johnson has accepted Minnie’s invitation to her little cabin in the mountains. In that time they realize their love for one another. Minnie offers Johnson her first lover’s kiss and they pledge themselves to one another. A knock on the door brings Rance and some of the miners letting Minnie know that Johnson is actually Ramirrez. Minnie is devastated. When she approaches Johnson about his lie he tells the story of his family. Mr. Burton’s Or son se mesi che no mi padre mori was filled with sadness, remorse and want of redemption; and his tenor cradled every note with fluidity. Hurt, Minnie throws him out only to hear a gunshot and invite him back in with a promise to love and protect him.
Rance comes back and finds Johnson hiding. Minnie makes a bargain with Rance that his life will be spared if she wins at cards. If she loses, Rance gets Johnson and herself. As Rance always fancied himself a gambler at heart, he agrees. Through some trickery Minnie wins and Rance accepts defeat.
Act three finds us in the snow-covered mountains and Johnson is on the run again. Rance and Nick discuss what Minnie sees in Johnson while Ashby arrives with the news of Johnson’s recapture. The miners are excited as they prepare to hang him. Johnson accepts his fate and sings the hauntingly beautiful Ch’ella me creda asking the miners not to tell Minnie of his death. Suddenly, Minnie arrives and pleads with each miner to let her and Johnson go, that they owed her their freedom; one by one they agree (E anche tu lo vorrai, Joe). Rance begrudgingly agrees and the ensemble bid Johnson and Minnie adieu (Le tue parole sono di Dio). Nick’s loving goodbye was especially touching.
I’ve always loved the character of Minnie because of her varying characteristics and kudos go to Ms. Johnson and her ability to evoke those traits, from Minnie’s acumen with firearms to reading the Bible and rescuing the man she loves. In Ms. Johnson’s Oh! se sapeste come il vivere e allego she absolutely lights up the theater with a clear and evoking soprano emitting Minnie’s love of life, and I think Michelle’s love of singing about life as well. Often times I believed Ms. Johnson was Minnie.
Mr. Pomponi’s Rance was delicious. Playing a sheriff with ulterior motives, yet yielding to what is essentially right, Mr. Pomponi was spot on. I don’t know if Mr. Preacely’s Sonora or Mr. Owen’s Ashby can be worked in a little more. Their voices are about ready for some big things. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Cammarota since he first came to Kentucky Opera and his Nick the Bartender certainly didn’t disappoint.
Congratulations to the Kentucky Opera’s Artistic and Production Teams for leaping into the 21st Century. The imagery was stunning and the use of lighting very effective. Props and costumes were on target too. I’m glad that The Girl of the Golden West made it out to the South.
The Girl of the Golden West
(La Fanciulla Del West)
November 14 @ 8:00pm
November 16 @ 2:00pm
W.L Lyons Brown Theatre
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40203
[box_light]Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]