La fanciulla del West

La fanciulla del West
By Giacomo Puccini et al – based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco. Opera Australia. Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney. Until August 6.

What was part of the theme from Music of the Night, from The Phantom of Opera, doing in the middle of a Puccini opera? It was one of a number of unexpected surprises which I enjoyed in this production. Apparently the estate of Puccini noticed the similarity too, and filed a suit against Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was settled out of court.
The first treat, however, was the stunning design of the set. The stage resembled the inside of a long wooden box. In the first Act it was on a tilt with a fabulous long descending bar that adorned a saloon … which was made to slide beers down.
The rear of the box had a movie screen, and throughout the opera western style movie snippets were projected onto all sides.
According to the Director Nigel Jamieson it was a magic box that was the perfect backdrop for film and also a natural amplifier for the voice.
Why then was the voice of Anke Hoppner – as Minnie, The Girl of the Golden West - sometimes lost in the lower registers?
Certainly she looked great and sparkled in the upper range but not in the way you might see in a Spaghetti Western where the top notes cause glass to shatter.
She fell for the bad guy Dick Johnson, performed by Carlo Barricelli. He certainly didn’t look like he could sweep a girl off her feet. He also appeared, like the set, a little wooden but did delight during the famous aria Ch'ella mì creda libero, sung as he faces the prospect of a hangman’s noose.
Jack Rance – The Sheriff, played by John Wegner, gave the most rounded performance, combining acting and musical craft.
But the star was the production, which was particularly striking in the final scene when all the cast were lit beautifully to resemble the sepia quality of an old photograph.
Like a treasured old album, this opera was well worth dusting off and opening the pages.
David Spicer

Image: Anke Höppner (Minnie) with Gentlemen of the Fanciulla company in Opera Australia's La fanciulla del West. Photographer: Branco Gaica

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