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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, January 4, 2010

DVD Review: Dick Johnson's Revenge

La Fanciulla del West at La Scala

And here's a nice photograph of La Scala

This DVD preserves a 1991 Jonathan Miller production of Puccini's "spaghetti Western," filmed at the venerable Milan opera house. Fanciulla was composed for the Met, and its libretto, with cries of "Wisky per tutti" still sound a little odd to American ears. But this simple, effective Jonathan Miller staging works well. This DVD provides a good argument for the elevation of Puccini's Western opera into the regular repertory--if one can still find the voices to sing it.

Placido Domingo's performance as Dick Johnson is everything a gentleman bandit should be: handsome, dashing, and equipped with a ringing tenor voice. This is Puccini's most technically difficult music for the male voice and Domingo sings with flair. He is tender in the love duets, and rises to the next energy level when his identity as the dastardly (but also dashing) bandit Ramerrez (sic) is revealed. Guess "Dick Johnson" is not the most convincing alias.

Maria Zampieri is not the most beautifully sung Minnie on record, but she has all the vocal strength that this role requires, and a rough-and-tumble demeanor that suits this frontier opera well. Her laser-beam soprano slices through the thick orchestral fabric, and she acts well in a physically demanding role. Finally she is convincing in her love scenes with Domingo, tentative at first and then blossoming into glorious vocal womanhood. And yes, she hits that pesky high B-flat in the second act.

Juan Pons is also a success as Jack Rance. Although the Spanish baritone is an experienced Scarpia, he knows the difference between Rance and the Tosca police chief. Rance is a much warmer role, a complex, honorable man whose genuine love for Minnie (and inabiity to catch her cheating at cards) gets in the way of doing his job. He treats the Sherrif position as an unpleasant, thankless task that sets him apart from the mining community. The Act II card-playing scene is harrowing with expert musical direction and the two singers glaring over their cards as conductor Lorin Maazel tightens the orchestral screws.

The opera's staggering list of comprimario roles (fifteen of them for men) are handled with skill by the La Scala cast. Lorin Maazel conducts a generally slow performance throughout that exposes some of the beauties and nuances of this neglected score, but lacks momentum and forward thrust.

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