"This is the landmark recording of Puccini's less popular La Fanciulla del West. It is quite different (more theatrical) from the other Puccini operas and it is in my opinion, experienced better live, in an opera house. The role of Minnie is arguably one of the most difficult roles to cast and especially to perform. It requires a powerful, firm voice but since it's a Puccini role, the voice must be beautiful as well. Renata Tebaldi's success in this role is legendary and she repeated the role on stage many times in the `60s. Here in 1958, she is caught in her absolute prime! The voice is glorious, hitting the high notes with amazing precision but always remaining warm and enchanting. As for acting skills, just purchase this set and listen to her... at any moment (the poker game for example!). In fact, most Tebaldi fans regard this as her best studio performance.But is it just Tebaldi that makes this set a miracle? Mario del Monaco here proves once again that he is one of the greatest tenors ever! His stentorian voice might not be suitable for other Puccini roles (Pinkerton or Rodolfo for example) but as Johnson he is superb. His handsome low and electrifying high notes shine in this recording. Cornell MacNeil's beautiful baritone voice is another asset of this set. In fact, EVERYONE in the cast is great but what truly amazes, is the chemistry between the performers! It is among the most "live" studio recordings I have ever listened to! The opera's closing scene (last two tracks) is one of Puccini's grandest achievements and these legendary singers make the best out of it. Maestro Capuana conducting is in the same league as his sublime soloists, which definitely helps us enjoy Puccini's magic! The sound quality, by the way, is excellent. A lot of people in the US were looking for this recording and Amazon finally releases it. Enjoy it!!"
A major milestone in Tebaldi's distinguished career
Armando Garcia | 02/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No words can describe the pleasure of listening to Renata Tebaldi in this opera, perhaps Puccini's most original work. It belongs in any Puccini-lover's shelf. This is a wonderful recording, sounding astonishingly vivid and clear for its age. Tebaldi is in excellent form, portraying an idiomatic and believable Fanciulla and a very Italian one at that too, gracing the score with her sumptuous voice, like a torrent of molten gold, to suit the demands of this Wagnerian-like rôle. Her aristocratic phrasing and perfect diction are a lesson for any singer. Tebaldi delivers deep dramatic intensity in a spinto rôle that, in my opinion, fitted her like a glove. This is a recording I keep coming back to very often. We ought to be eternally indebted to Decca for recording Tebaldi in this rôle in her absolute prime. The rest of the cast is first-rate. Mario del Monaco, boasting a clarion-sounding, virile voice and electrifying phrasing, is a delight. Cornell McNeill too is in excellent voice and his singing is idiomatic and coloured. The orchestra at times seems to be a character in the opera in its own right. A wonderful set. I would give it 10 stars if I could."
bob turnley | birmingham,al,usa | 12/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Face it. All the best opera recordings were made between the mid 50s and early 70s. Fortunate for us that the final golden age of opera singing coincided with the onset of high fidelity stereo recording. This Fanciulla is a golden age performance. Sure, Carol Neblett had better high notes but the rest of the Tebaldi performance is a treasure. The role of Dick Johnson seems like it was written precisely for the voice of Del Monaco. His miraculous high notes are among the wonders of recorded opera. Cornell MacNeil's brief vocal prime was captured in this recording. This Fanciulla easily deserves a place alongside the Callas Tosca, the Bjoerling Boheme and the Caballe Manon Lescaut as the best Puccini recordings ever made."
Historic "Fanciulla" with Tebaldi, Del Monaco Macneil and To
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 07/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SOURCE: This is a studio recording made in 1958 in Rome. It was digitally remastered for CD in 1988, at which time it was released under the old London label. This current set, issued in 2002, marks the second appearance in CD format, now under the Decca label.
SOUND: This recording was one of the showpieces of early stereo recording. It was spectacular on Lp. When first remastered for CD in 1988, it was still spectacular. My own copy is the 1988 version. I have no idea whether the performance was remastered for the 2002 edition, but if so, I've no reason to suspect that it is any less special, even though some more narrow-minded audiophiles might find it a bit old-fashioned. For anyone who is actually interested in the performance, it will sound fine.
CAST: THE TOWNSFOLK: Minnie, the girl of the golden west, and proprietor of the Polka Saloon - Renata Tebaldi (soprano) Jack Rance, the sheriff who loves Minnie - Cornell Macneil (baritone Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent - Silvio Maionica (bass) Nick, the waiter at the Polka Saloon - Piero di Palma (tenor) Wowkle, Minnie's maid - Bianca Maria Casoni (mezzo-soprano) Billy Jackrabbit, Wowkle's husband - Dario Caselli (bass) THE MINER FORTY-NINERS: Bello - Edio Peruzzi (baritone) Happy - Michele Cazzato (baritone) Harry - Mario Carlin (tenor) Joe - Angelo Mercuriali (tenor) Larkens - Giuseppe Morresi (bass) Sid - Virgilio Carbonari (baritone) Sonora - Giorgio Giorgetti (baritone) Trin - Enzo Guagni (tenor) THE BANDITS: Dick Johnson AKA Ramerrez, a badman who just might be reformable and who also loves Minnie - Mario del Monaco (tenor) José Castro, one of the Ramerrez Gang - Unidentified (bass). THE OTHERS: Jake Wallace, an itinerant singer - Giorgio Tozzi (baritone) Pony Express rider - Athos Cesarini (tenor)
CONDUCTOR: Franco Capuana, with Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma.
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, as author, producer and stage director. He was associated with hundreds of plays, most of his own writing. 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, at which his father had arrived during the goldrush of 1849. The travails and tribulations of the old "forty-niners" were part of the playwright's family heritage. He'd tossed the memories of his youth and the myths of the west into a theatrical stewpot and out had come Minnie, angel of the Polka Saloon in some ramshackle 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 was the designer (full-sized trees and real horses) and 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 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 at least one warhorse to the concert repertory. It is--or it 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 throughout in a more-or-less continuous arioso. The effect is sometimes as ponderous as in Wagner's drier patches, not at all the thing sought by devotees of Italian opera. Familiar and 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 challenging 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, Renata Tebaldi is stupendous as Minnie, a role she was born to sing. (Just ignore any know-nothings who suggest otherwise.) The outlaw, Dick Johnson, was one of those parts that, like Otello and Ernani, transformed Mario del Monaco's faults into shining virtues. The only criticism that I can make of him is that his "Ch'ella mi creda" is, if anything, a little too restrained. I'd have loved to hear him rear back and really belt it out! Cornell Macneil was at his too-brief vocal peak when he recorded Jack Rance. Purely as a matter of personal taste, I prefer a more dramatic and less sonorous sheriff, but I can't deny that Macneil sings beautifully. For the small part of Jake Wallace, the producers cast no less than Giorgio Tozzi. Now, that is luxury casting! The smaller parts are handled nicely by a platoon of singers whose names will be familiar to those who listen to a lot of mid-century Italian opera productions. For those concerned with such things Capuana brings out a surprising number of subtleties in this not very subtle opera.
Five stars--believe it!"
Which Fanciulla to pick, this or the DG set under Mehta?
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 12/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As almost everyone else has noted, fanciulla del West isn't very popular, and yet Tebaldi made Miniie a signature role. I think it's also true, as one reviewer notes, that this opera is better on stage. Unlike Tosca, for example, the action isn't arranged to link great arias and duets with the melodramatic screws being turned tighter at every moment. fanciulla takes a while even introducing the hero and heroine, and they they appear, it's not with a big aria. Among Puccini's greatest hit, only Johnson's last aria, Ch'ella mi creda libero, comes from this opera. The rest contains a lot of local color, and the dialogue is a hoot falling on English and American ears. ("Hello, ragazzi" occurs several times, and Minnie's first words to Johnson, "Howdy, stranger," come out as "Saluto, straniero," shades of Turandot). Also in common with Turandot are Puccini's strange tritones and other harmonic colorations that have nothing to do with the American West. It's strange that unlike Dvorak, he didn't absorb anything of the American folk idiom.
Leaving that aside, this famous Decca recording vies with a DG recording under Mehta for first place. On its own terms, the Mehta is exciting and dramatically vivid, with both Carol Neblett and Placido Domingo doing very good work. But for sheer style and thrills they can't best del Monaco and Tebaldi. She's not in best voice, but then, hardness set in with Tebaldi's high notes quite early. The main thing is her total mastery of the entire role. As far as sound goes, this cheap Decca reissue has more than a bit of thinness and glare; the DG far surpasses it. I can't quite imagine owning two Fanciullas -- it's too queer a hybrid -- so if I must pick only one, this is it."