The Girl of the Golden West. Puccini. ENO. Review by Julia Pascal.

This is the most surprising of nineteenth century operas.  It’s a Western!  The work is based on David Belasco’s drama of the same name though Puccini’s original was in Italian and known as La Fanciulla del West with libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini.  Belasco’s 1905 stage play was a hit but the 1910 opera is rarely staged.  Indeed this is the first performance in London for 50 years.

There is a disconnect between expectation and the visuals.  The Californian gold rush, and the stage full of gold miners, leads to an aural expectation of Oklahoma! or Annie Get Your Gun.  Therefore the stark recitative of Puccini’s compostion takes some getting used to but, after the first act,  the narrative drive of the drama seduces.   The charm of the melodrama is that it has a political edge.  Here are no romantic, ‘noble’ characters but ordinary workers dragging out a living.  Susan Bullock is touching as Minnie and Peter Auty a quixotic Ramerez.  What is strange about the opera is the drive towards a happy end where the thief escapes the noose and the lovers walk off into the dust-set.

Richard Jones’ production excitingly uses the minimal sets to change audience perspective.  At the end of Act One Minnie walks upstage and helps give the flat design of the  Polka Bar a depth which excites the eye.  At the end of Act Three, he again satisfyingly exploits space by pushing the crowd away to show Minnie and Raerez’s journey into a new life.

I enjoyed Lucy Burge’s tough choreography and Keri-Lynn Wilson’s interpretation as conductor.

This is a fascinating hybrid of theatre, western and opera which is hard to forget.

Julia Pascal © 2014.