Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2011 from The Last Verista


Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, happy, and love-filled holiday season.  See you in the New Year!!!

Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

“Laggiu nel Soledad, Cento Anni Fa”: Fanciulla del West in Review, Then and Now

Months ago, I voiced my opinion about the interesting casting for this important 100th anniversary production of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” Tonight, I recall some of the history associated with this important opera.  In 1910, Fanciulla debuted at the MET with Puccini in the audience and with hand-picked singers, Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn.  The libretto was written by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco.

Since I first heard Fanciulla, the score and the text fascinated me for a number of reasons.  In honour of the 100 years ago since Puccini’s Golden Girl premiered, I would like to explore some of those reasons here and also express my opinions on this evening’s broadcast and how the two amalgamate, or separate.

Fanciulla was composed in 1908, after a very emotional and psychologically tumultuous period in Puccini’s life.  It is also the first work in which his heroine does “not” die.  There is a very significant reason for this, one that was very personal and yet effected musically and dramatically in the extension of Minnie’s character.  But, it is not only this that distinguishes Minnie from his other heroines.  Her other supreme asset is her authority over the men…a trait Puccini continues to explore in Turandot. (Effectively, all of Puccini’s have some authority over men, but stay tuned for that conversation in upcoming opera chats/lectures).

The premiere, on December 1910, proved one of the most spectacular events in the annals of theatre. Opera historian, Julian Budden recounts, “The house was packed with notables of every variety–diplomats, generals, leaders of high society, and such artists of eminence as happened to be in the city, among them the pianist Josef Hoffmann, and the composer Humperdinck.  The “Sun” summed up the occasion with the banner headline, ‘GOLDEN WEST IN OPERA DRAWS GOLD FROM EAST’. The performance itself had every appearance of an uncontested triumph:  47 curtain calls and a silver wreath presented to Puccini by Gatti-Casazza amid loud cheers.  Next day a banquet in Puccini’s honour offered by the Vanderbilts.”

After some hiatus, Puccini had given up the idea of working on a “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and instead took on the idea of Belasco’s play, however you will note that the opera sounds remotely different than his earlier works.  In Fanciulla, Puccini not only expands his melodic spectrum, but the orchestra becomes much more present.  Typical of him, as in Butterfly, Puccini adopted western melodies, traditional american songs, and even cadential phrases that mimic negro spirituals and imbedded them within the symphonic structure of the opera. Textually, he instituted a more expansive free-form style than in any of his previous works.  Here, as in Turandot, Puccini demands that his orchestra adopt the palate of the insinuated “tinta;” whether it be Chinese or Western, the orchestra in these late works is fully recognized as a character with which the voices are meant to integrate, alla Richard Strauss, where a web is woven by the presence of the voice as an instrument and the orchestra as a voice.

But, what is more, Fanciulla’s expressive text and the free manner of writing is more firmly linked to the actual inflection of Italian.  Therefore, for Fanciulla to be exciting, it requires a conductor who understands how to balance the colorito (as Puccini called it) in the orchestra, and singers who have a fervent grasp of the nuances in the Italian language (not to mention specific voice colours that are typically lugubrious and rich in the middle.  Perhaps more rhythmic than any of his other works, Fanciulla’s impetus is of “off-beats” and “accents” that create the offsetting western swagger of the Golden West.

The set of the MET’s Production


Tonight’s production, which remounts the opera for the 100th Anniversary of the actual premiere on Dec. 10, was well-done, but unfortunately lacked in several of Puccini’s absolutes.  Let’s not forget, HE was there and highly involved in the production in 1910.  Nicola Luisotti, who is well-respected as the newest conductor of Italian productions at the MET, opened with what should be an Allegro ma non troppo in an excited and explosive manner, if not too fast.  It is here at the opening of Puccini’s work that one must linger in the sonorities that he created because of his continual indication that the “Tinta” was initially created by the orchestra and then expanded throughout his web of sound.  If one glosses over these rich chords, it is difficult to achieve the sort of affect Puccini demanded.  For the most part, he kept the orchestra nicely balanced although it sometimes lacked in the lower resonances, which are the scaffolding on which Puccini built so many magnificent moments. Puccini’s orchestral texture ought to be thought of as vertical–that is, stemming from from what might be called “earthly” sonorities (the low resonances of the orchestra), the “middle hemisphere” (where the voice and the motives circulate), and the “ethereal” (the highest sonorities of the orchestra, and often of the soprano).  In order to attain the Puccinian palate, these must be balanced in accordance with the text and emotion that is occurring.  Although Luisotti did a fine job of keeping everything moving and exciting, Puccini’s works stem from a period of opera that requires one to look at “everything” intrinsically.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti

In the opening scene with the miners, the orchestra was slightly overbearing and more attention could have been paid  to the offbeats that require that extra bit of accent to make the atmosphere more authentically western. Although the voices were quite nice, and the scene was well produced, the conversation between the miners sounded too technical and off the page rather than naturally spoken with Italian inflection.  Puccini was a master at capturing the inflection of naturalized text in a rhythm, and so to achieve authenticity or accento puro, one needs to just speak it alla Italiana.  In  this production, Marcello Giordani was the chief representative of this trait.

At the point of Minnie’s entrance, the orchestra might have been balanced toward the higher resonances, the high strings, as is a typically associated with Puccinian heroines.  Ms. Voigt’s entrance was interesting if not slightly under-pitch.  Minnie’s entrance is a difficult one and the role does take some warming up to get into, however  much can be done with Minnie’s character because she is so utterly unique in Puccini’s oeuvre; in fact, it is just as much about her personality and her text than her voice.  One reason, in particular, for which she is so beloved is because she does not die. She is energetic and brilliant and a woman of strength.  Ms. Voigt, while attempting to deal with the difficulties of the music, lacked some of this necessary brilliance initially, although she warmed up to some extremely expressive moments in ACT II.  Her Laggiù nel Soledad was pretty, but too careful in terms of the text.  Her end to the ACT II poker game was most definitely her best singing of the evening, expressive and dramatic.

Deborah Voigt


Voigt’s colleague, Mr. Giordani sang with more authentic Italian inflection and exhibited several magnificent moments in the upper tessitura, however, Dick Johnson sits lower than some tenor roles and so the middle voice was slightly pushed this evening.  His singing of “No, Minnie, non piangete” was certainly his best singing of the evening, heartfelt and passionate.  This scene is my favourite because of the impending transfer of Johnson’s melody to the concert master.  Here, Puccini’s masterful chord transitions, as he develops the melody, are illuminating and vibrant.  Luisotti might have taken the end of this section with a stronger focus in the violins.



All in all, the production was good but not spectacular.  For the 100th anniversary, I feel that the MET ought to have gone out on a limb and presented something more extravagant with this production, especially since the premiere was such a monumental and historical event.  Nevertheless, those who sit in the theatre on December 10, and those who listen to the radio should recall the great man who sat in the old-Met and listened to his music performed in America.  What a triumph for the MET and for Puccini, who with Minnie (the unconquerable) had overcome the most serious and difficult moments of his life.  She is his legacy of truth and those who sing her ought to be blessed with the knowledge that Minnie, above all his heroines, is superlative.


©Mary-Lou Vetere, 2010

Reviews of the COC’s “The Flying Dutchman”

The Canadian Opera Company’s run of Wagner’s redemptive masterpiece, “Der Fliegende Holländer” ended last evening.  The following are some of the more prominent reviews the opera received in the past weeks.

The stage set for the COC’s production of “The Flying Dutchman”

John Terauds of the Toronto Star “The Flying Dutchman: Staging Swamps Talented Cast”

Ken Winters of the Globe and Mail, “The Flying Dutchman Finds its Redemption in the Singing”

Evgeny Nikitin as the Dutchman and Julie Makerov as Senta

Jamie Weinman from “Maclean’s Canada.” (The Controversial Opera Cities Love)

John Kaplan (Toronto Now) “The Flying Dutchman”

The Met audience makes itself heard. BRAVO IL PUBBLICO!!!!

Back to the 60s hair do for Urmana

Apparently (since I wasn’t there, but would loved to have been), last night’s premiere of “Attila” was met with “boo’s” as much as it was met with cheering.  The blogs and reviews are reporting that cheers for Muti were abundant, but that the opposite response was offered to the production director, Mr. Audi, and his team.  Muti obviously took control over the Met orchestra and led them in a positive direction, but it seems that the Met’s audience is not going to sit back and watch the modernization of an art that begs for authenticity.

Personally, I find it very concerning that the Met would present this rather historically important opera for the first time and set it in this manner, with little concern for the fact that Attila hinged on being a manifesto of sorts.  During Verdi’s period, especially in 1846 when it was premiered, the general climate in Italy was one that was encompassed by the drive for unification.  Italy had since been under Austrian power.  Therefore, the drive for unification had swallowed up all of Italy’s artistic forms, including opera.  Although there have been a plethora of scholastic arguments about whether or not Verdi was a political man (whether or not he was is of little interest, except for the role his operas may have played politically).  Some feel that Nabucco, for example, is a manifesto of Risorgimento Italy; an instructive to the “Italian, not Hebrew” audience, in its plight to become a free nation.

Attila is an opera that functions similarly.  It was also one of these “politically” based, if not outwardly, operas and so it would have been more historically accurate had the Met not presented a set that looked like something had blown up.  Subtlety is sometimes best and keeps the focus where it belongs, on the music and the singing.

Here are some reviews for last night’s “Attila.”

Can’t wait for the broadcast on March 6th!

Welcome double invasion at the Metropolitan Opera: Attila the Hun and Muti the Maestro (by Mike Silverman of the Associated Press

At the Met, a Hun who struggles to conquer his doubts (by Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times)

Honey, I Shrunk the Met (by James Jordan of the New York Post)

Anne Midgette Reviews Verdi’s “Attila” from the MET (Washington Post)

Attila invade il Met (Il Giornale della Musica)

Review: “Attila” by David Finkle (Theatermania)

Also, for you scholastic types, on February 26, 2010, some of the top opera scholars in North America will be holding a symposium to discuss “Attila.”  Here is information on the topics.

CONF: Verdi’s Attila at the Met: A Symposium
February 26, 2010, 5:30pm
Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’
24 West 12th Street, New York City
* Free Admission *

This month Riccardo Muti makes his Metropolitan Opera debut conducting Giuseppe Verdi’s Attila in a new critical edition prepared by Helen M. Greenwald (forthcoming in the Works of Giuseppe Verdi published by Ricordi and the University of Chicago Press).
The American Institute of Verdi Studies celebrates the occasion with a symposium devoted to this exciting opera from Verdi’s early period. Four distinguished Verdi scholars discuss the libretto of Attila, Verdi’s creative process, and issues of performance practice and musical style. The symposium consists of four brief papers followed by a round table discussion, and is enriched by numerous musical examples.
Francesco Izzo (University of Southampton and American Institute for Verdi Studies),
“Solera, Piave, and the Final Scene of Attila”
Philip Gossett (University of Chicago and University of Rome “La Sapienza”),
“Verdi’s Skeleton Scores and Attila”
Helen M. Greenwald (New England Conservatory),
“Pictorial Music in Attila”
David Lawton (Stony Brook University),
“Verdi in Rehearsal”
Moderator: Roberta Montemorra Marvin (University of Iowa)
For more information, please call (212) 998-8730 or e-mail at