Assembled 1991 performance from La Scala offering Placido Do
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 07/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"SOURCE: This recording appears to be an assembly of takes from live performances at Teatro alla Scala, Milano, recorded on January 27 and 31 and February 3 and 7, 1991. The recording producer was Michel Glotz and the engineer was Christian Constantinov.
SOUND: This is a DDD recording by a major company that dates from the early 1990s. By normal expectations, such a thing ought to provide pretty good sound reproduction. On the other hand, this is a Sony opera recording, which--in my own experience, at least--means that there is almost certainly going to be something quirky about it. Some reviewers have complained that the sound level is too low. Others report that it is not. My own set seems a bit low, but not to the extent that I'd have commented on it in other circumstances. I do strongly disagree with some recording decisions, though. For example, the first part of Jake's song of longing, "Che farrano," is at such low volume that it can hardly be heard at all.
CAST: THE TOWNSFOLK: Minnie, the girl of the golden west, and proprietor of the Polka Saloon - Mara Zampieri (soprano); Jack Rance, the sheriff who loves Minnie - Juan Pons (baritone); Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent - Luigi Roni (bass); Nick, the waiter at the Polka Saloon - Sergio Bertocchi (tenor); Wowkle, Minnie's maid - Nella Veri (mezzo-soprano); Billy Jackrabbit, Wowkle's husband - Aldo Bramante (bass). THE MINER FORTY-NINERS: Bello - Orazio Mori (baritone); Happy - Ernesto Panariello (baritone); Harry - Francesco Memeo (tenor); Joe - Aldo Bottion (tenor); Larkens - Pietro Spagnoli (bass); Sid - Giovanni Savoiardo (baritone); Sonora - Antono Salvadori (baritone); Trin - Ernesto Gavazzi (tenor). THE BANDITS: Dick Johnson AKA Ramerrez, a badman who just might be reformable and who also loves Minnie - Placido Domingo (tenor); José Castro, one of the Ramerrez Gang - Claudio Giombi (bass). THE OTHERS: Jake Wallace, an itinerant singer - Marco Chingari (baritone); a Pony Express rider - Umberto Scalavino (tenor)
CONDUCTOR: Lorin Maazel with Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milano.
DOCUMENTATION: Libretto in Italian, English, German and French. Track list. Plot summary. Essays on Puccini and the opera. Thumbnail biographies / discographies of Domingo, Zampieri and Pons.
COMMENTARY: After the successes of "La boheme," "Tosca" and "Madama Butterfly," Giacomo Puccini sought a new story and, since the Twentieth Century was now firmly established, something of a new style. He found both in New York at the David Belasco Theater.
David Belasco (1853-1931) was a giant of the American theater, an author-producer-stage director who was associated with hundreds of plays, most of them written by himself. He was famous for the realism of his elaborate stage productions. Puccini had already mined Belasco's works for "Madama Butterfly." Now he would snaffle up another, "The Girl of the Golden West."
Belasco had been born in San Francisco, to which his father had come during the goldrush of 1849. The travails and tribulations of the old "forty-niners" were clearly part of the playwright's family heritage. He tossed the memories of his youth and the myths of the west into a theatrical stewpot and out came Minnie, the proprietor of the Polka Saloon in a ramshackle, temporary boomtown near the diggings and placer sites on the American River.
"La fanciulla del west" premiered in December 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was given a splendid production, as befitted the most popular living opera composer. Belasco designed the production (full-sized trees and real horses) and served as stage director. Toscanini conducted. Enrico Caruso was the outlaw, complete with furry chaps, twin six-guns and ten-(or maybe twenty-)gallon hat. Pasquale Amato was the sheriff, and then-famous dramatic soprano Emmy Destinn was Minnie.
The premiere was a success--sort of, just as the opera has continued to be a success--sort of. "La fanciulla" contributed a warhorse piece to the concert repertory. It is--or used to be when people could still sing it--revived with some regularity. Knowledgeable opera fans regularly praise it, often more generously than they do "La boheme" or "Tosca," but so far as I can tell, the opera isn't loved, certainly not loved in the way that the ticket-buying public loves "Boheme" or "Tosca" or "Butterfly" or even "Turandot."
Among the musical changes in style that Puccini brought to "La fanciulla" was his emphasis on the chorus of miners. Collectively, they become a character in the drama as prominent as the outlaw or the sheriff or Minnie. Puccini's idea was admirable but, or so it seems to me, his execution wasn't very successful. The miners are lively and raucous but not especially musical; they also diffuse the focus, which should be centered on the rivalry for Minnie's love. Rather than the soaring melodies of his earlier works, Puccini wrote in a more-or-less continuous arioso. The effect is sometimes as ponderous as some of Wagner's dry patches, not at all the thing sought by devotees of Italian opera. Familiar, melodic "Ch'ella mi creda," when it finally comes, is a welcome relief, but too little and too late.
Minnie is an immensely difficult role for any soprano. The great Birgit Nilsson regarded Minnie as more of a challenge than Turandot. In his memoirs, Rudolf Bing still seemed still a little shell shocked when he reported that Leontyne Price, for whom he'd mounted a production of "La fanciulla," proved not strong enough and had to drop out halfway through her second performance. On this recording, Mara Zampieri is Minnie. Zampieri, to say the least, evokes a wide range of reactions. The Good Grey magazine, The Gramophone" has referred to her with exquisite delicacy as "controversial" and of "marked individuality." I think she is a minimally satisfactory Minnie, neither more nor less. Placido Domingo effectively owned the part of the outlaw for many years (and might still do so today.) I find him, as I almost always do, to be very good but just too generic to be great as Dick Johnson. Juan Pons, again as usual, is very good as Sheriff Rance--but not the best. The smaller parts are handled competently, if not particularly memorably. Maazel conducts the La Scala forces with competence and sometimes fire in what must surely be part of their core repertory.
Five weak stars, mainly for the presence of Domingo, less one for the controversial individuality of Zampieri and the sound engineering."
AN OPERA WITH A HAPPY ENDING
M. Ferrer | SPAIN | 03/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am surprised to see that nobody has revied this opera. Although I know that many of you still think that La Tebaldi was the best, I encourage you to hear Mara Zampieri. In the second act she is wonderful. The innoncence and naivete of Minnie is so well depicted that you beguin to think that no one has sung this opera before. Her scene with J. Pons "una partita al poker" is so moving..!But in general this opera is one of may favourites. It has a happy ending,quite unusual for Puccinni.Domingo sings a wonderful "quella mi creda libero é lontano" you are almost breathless hearing him.
And Pons is so mean, but also so pasionate that you drink every word he sings.I find very apealing Maazael conduction, he has this energy and dramatism that fits so well with the music.So really you must hear it."
A bit dissapionted
Kevin Mulder | Enschede, The Netherlands | 07/22/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First of all I have to admit that I have not listened to the entire recording. Mainly because I was a bit dissapointed by the singing of Mara Zampieri, and by the recorded sound. Mara Zampieri has a rather strange voice wich sounds the same the entire time and it is very mechanical. As far as the recorded sound, you do have to crank up the volume to hear it all clear."
Very poor sound quality
S. Howe | Jersey City, NJ USA | 09/17/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this opera performed at Glimmerglass and found it simply wonderful. Wanting to hear the opera again, and thinking that a recording with Placido Domingo should be pretty good (at least!), I was very disappointed to discover how poor this recording is.
I am not talking about the actual performance, but the mastering of the sound quality on the CD. The recording is so soft that even with my stereo turned up to full volume (and I have tried it on four different stereos) the record is muted, hard to hear, and very frustrating to listen too.
There are plenty of recordings of this opera out there, including other recordings with Placido--spend your money elsewhere."