29 September 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Kaufmann dominates in this mostly very half-baked 'Fanciulla'
As said in my review for the 2012 Swedish production, also starring Nina Stemme, 'La Fanciulla Del West' is not one of Puccini's best operas (though not his weakest, although still interesting 'Edgar' would get my vote for that), the story is very slight with an overlong first act and the characters not always plausible.
It still has a tense Act 2 and when done right Act 3 is touching and evokes chills. Puccini's music is not continuously memorable and only Rance's "Minnie Della Mia Casa" and Johnson's "Ch'Ella Mi Creda", the latter being the most well-known part and a tenor favourite) stand out as arias, but it does have some absolutely beautiful moments with Puccini's distinctively lush and soaring sound shining through. 'La Fanciulla Del West' is mostly served very well on DVD, the 1963 Antoniella Stella, the 1982 Covent Garden and 1992 Met (the most visually beautiful, and while Sherrill Milnes is over the hill vocally his characterisation of Rance is interestingly complex and layered) productions faring best.
Of the DVD competition, this production fares least. It does have enough to compensate, but too many crucial elements bring it down. The best thing about is the impeccable performance of Jonas Kaufmann. His warm baritone-like middle register is as smooth and warm as chocolate, and his high notes ring out and don't sound strained, while he is a strong actor with a charm and intensity about him. Of the staging, faring best are the tense card scene concluding Act 2 and the chilling and moving final scene.
The orchestral playing shimmers in beauty, has burning intensity and soaring nuances. The technical values of the DVD are good and the music well captured in the sound quality.
However, had mixed feelings on Nina Stemme. She sounds great in this taxing role, apart from some unsteadiness, but plays Minnie as too tough and rather too matronly. Tomasz Konieczny fares the weakest, good voice but unintelligible diction and dramatically Rance is too much of a standard villain as a result of Konieczny's pretty limited emotional range. Franz Welser Most's conducting is also disappointingly routine, getting the job done but with not much urgency or sensitivity.
Visually, the production is not appealing, looking too spare and bleak, giving little sense of time and place. The staging has its moments, but overall the production is very half-baked, especially in a very static first act (livened only by Kaufmann's entrance) that makes an already somewhat overlong act rather dull and draggy. The final scene is also undermined by that very incongruous, anachronistic and incomprehensible touch right at the end of the production.
All in all, this 'La Fanciulla Del West' is very half-baked but it has its virtues, namely Kaufmann. 5/10 Bethany Cox