10 July 2011 | TheLittleSongbird
Also available on audio CD, this 1977 performance of La Fanciulla Del West is wonderful. I also recommend the 1982 Royal Opera House, 1991 La Scala and 1992 Met productions.
I like the opera very much, first time I did notice flaws with it such as the standard story and some implausible characters albeit loving the Poker scene and music, but watching and hearing it quite a few times over the past couple of months, I appreciate it more. All of the productions have shown some big risks with this opera, particularly the Met production with Act 2, and the role of Minnie is cruelly taxing.
A major high point is Zubin Mehta's conducting, which is sparkling and passionate, while the sound is of excellent quality.
The music is wonderful, some may say it is lacking in instant classics/big arias, but it is basically typical Puccini with a bit of inspiration from Strauss and Debussy melodically and harmonically. Che'lla Mi Creda is perhaps the best known part of the opera, but to me that isn't La Fanciulla Del West's only compelling moment, there is also Jack Rance's Minnie Dalla Mia Casa, the act 1 duet, the Poker scene(which is particularly riveting here) and the final stand-off.
The cast do wonderfully. Of the all-male ensemble cast, Francis Egerton's lively Nick and Robert Lloyd's very well-sung Ashby stand out, while Glynn Howell is a quite moving Jake Wallace.
The performance however belongs to the three leads. I personally prefer Carol Neblett in the 1982 production where she is truly amazing, however she is very good here. She has a beautiful, creamy, well-produced voice, if there was anything that let her down it was her Italian diction, which was good on some occasions but poor in others.
Placido Domingo is one of my favourite ever tenors, and mainly because I am familiar with him the most of all the Dick Johnsons, though I love Mario Del Monaco's as well, he is my personal favourite in the role. Domingo has a great personality and is an outstanding actor, and not only that he acts with his voice and brings out Johnson's characteristics very well and more importantly he sings superbly.
Then there's Jack Rance. There have been some great Jack Rances, Cornell MacNeil, Tito Gobbi, Juan Pons(the most sympathetic) and especially Silvano Carolli, but for me Sherrill Milnes, who I am a big fan of, is the most interesting. Milnes' Jack Rance is subtle in Minnie Dalla Mia Casa, thrilling in particularly the Poker scene, menacing in Act 2 where he forceful with Minnie and when he discovers Johnson's hiding place and sometimes even comical like in Act 1 during the bust-up just before Minnie's big entrance. Milnes was also a fine singing-actor, a master of acting with the voice and his voice here is really quite dark and virile. He is in much better voice than he was in the Met production, then in fairness despite the vocal crisis in the 80s and that that performance was one of his better ones that decade, Milnes's worst decade for singing in my opinion was by far the 90s.
Overall though, wonderful. 9/10 Bethany Cox