Librettists, Carlo Zangarini, Guelfo Civinini
La Fanciulla del West (1907-1910)
Background: After completing Madama Butterfly, it took Giacomo Puccini another three years to find his next subject. During this time, he wrote several compositions and toyed with many different operatic ideas, from which nothing came to fruition. He travelled extensively during these years, overseeing various productions and attending openings of his operas. At the beginning 1907, Puccini sailed to America where The Metropolitan Opera was presenting Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly , both operas featuring Enrico Caruso as the lead tenor. While he was in New York , he saw three more plays by David Belasco, who had written the play on which Puccini had based his Madama Butterfly.
One of these plays was Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West. Puccini was particularly taken by the dramatic effects created by the scenery and effects, and asked Ricordi's agent in New York to secure the rights for him. By March, he was back in Torre del Lago, trying to make progress with Illica on an opera about the life of Marie Antoinette.
Giacosa had died the previous year, and the composer and his remaining librettist were again at loggerheads. During a halt to the proceedings, Puccini spent the summer at Abetone Boscolungo, and then went to Chiatri where he began with a new librettist, Italian-American Carlo Zangarini, on La Fanciulla del West . He researched Native American music, finding a book of Indian songs that inspired his Act II lullabye. In the autumn, he returned to Torre del Lago to continue with the new work, although he was frustrated with Zangarini's slow progress. Early in 1908, Puccini and his wife sailed to Egypt , but the composer's thoughts were never far from his Fanciulla. When he returned, he continued with his new librettist, but work went very slowly. The first two acts were finished, but Puccini had asked for a multitude of changes and revisions, and Zangarini was stalling. In mid-May, Puccini brought in a collaborator, Guelfo Civinini, a journalist who also wrote poetry. They spent June together in Torre, working under extreme pressure to complete the work. In August, Puccini went to Abetone Boscolungo where he tried to continue, and despite the distraction of houseguests and debilitated by minor illnesses that had dogged him all year, he was able to completely revise Act III. September and October saw him back in Torre del Lago, where he revised Act II, and by the beginning of 1910, he was feeling very good about the opera. By April, he was finished. Fanciulla was scheduled for an American premiere, and Puccini sailed for New York in November, 1910, to arrive in time to spend two weeks preparing the cast for their roles. Toscannini was to conduct. By the time Puccini arrived, the Fanciulla season had been sold out, and extra performances added. La Fanciulla del West premiered at The Metropolitan Opera, New York , December 10, 1910, and was a triumph.
Synopsis: It is California , during the years of gold-rush fever,1849-1850. Minnie runs a bar for the miners, mothering them, and caring for their spiritual welfare. Sherrif Jack Rance is in love with Minnie, but his affections are not returned. The miners are gathered playing cards when Ashby, the Wells Fargo Agent, arrives and tells Rance that he is following the trail of a notorious bandit, Ramerrez. A stranger, Dick Johnson (Ramerrez in disguise) enters, looking for a drink. He and Minnie recognize each other from having met many years before, and much to the Sherrif's annoyance, she and the stranger dance together. The capture of one of Ramerrez's accomplices is announced, and the robber is dragged into the bar. Recognizing Johnson/Ramerrez, he bluffs that he can lead the men to the bandit's hideout and they all depart, leaving Minnie and Johnson alone. Learning that she alone guards the miners' treasure of gold with her life, he abandons his original plan to rob the saloon and accepts Minnie's invitation to her cabin for dinner. Act II: Minnie tells Johnson of her exciting life in the mountains, and they declare their love for each other. They are interrupted by banging on the door: it is Sherrif Rance with some of his men. Minnie quickly hides Johnson, and the Sherrif enters to tell her that he has discovered that the stranger, Dick Johnson, is really Ramerrez in disguise. Minnie sends them away and becomes furious with Johnson for deceiving her. Even although there is a blizzard raging outside, Minnie sends him out into the night. No sooner has he left than a shot rings out: the Sherrif, seeing Johnson leaving the cabin, has wounded him. Minnie, overcome by love, helps Johnson back inside and hides him upstairs in the attic. Sherrif Rance returns and demands Johnson/Ramerrez. He is just about to leave, having been convinced by Minnie that Johnson is not there, when a drop of blood falls from the loft onto his hand. In desperation, Minnie strikes a bargain with the sherrif: they are to play a hand of poker, and if she loses, she will become Rance's and Johnson will be brought to justice. However, if she wins, Johnson will be allowed to go free. Minnie wins by cheating and Rance leaves, furious at having lost the bet. Act III: After recovering from his wound under Minnie's care, Johnson leaves her and is captured by the miners, who plan to hang him. Pleading with them to tell Minnie nothing of his fate, only that he found a new life far away, Johnson asks them to finish the job quickly. Minnie arrives at the last moment and begs for Johnson's life, reminding the miners of all she has done for them, and saying that the greatest teaching of love is that the worst sinner can be redeemed. Despite Rance's jealous protests, Johnson is freed by the crowd and he and Minnie leave to find a new life together.
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