No Cowboys, No Indians in Kosky’s Gritty Fanciulla

23/06/2014

 Puccini:c La Fanciulla del West   Soloists,Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich, conductor:Marco Armiliato, Zurich Opera, Zurich. 22.6.14 (JR

 

2014-06-23_16-11-07-500

Verdi’s Fanciulla courtesy Zurich Opera

)

Production:

Director:                 Barrie Kosky
Sets/Lights:    Rufus Didwiszus
Costumes:               Klaus Bruns
Musical assistant:      Kanat Omarov
Lighting:                  Franck Evin
Chorus:                  Jürg Hämmerli
Dramaturgy:            Claus Spahn
Cast:
Minnie:                   Catherine Naglestad
Dick Johnson:          Zoran Todorovich
Jack Rance:             Scott Hendricks
Nick:                      Sunnyboy Dladla
Ashby:                    Pavel Daniluk
Sonora:                  Cheyne Davidson
Trin:                       Dmitry Ivanchey
Sid:                        Tomasy Slawinski
Bello:                     Kresimir Strazanac
Harry:                    Alessandro Fantoni
Joe:                       Andreas Winkler
Happy:                   Oleg Loza
Larkens:                 Alexei Botnarciuc
Bill Jackrabbit:          Dimitri Pkhaladze
Wowkle:                 Judit Kutasi
Jack Wallace:           Yuriy Tsiple
José Castro:            Roberto Lorenzi
A postman:             Kristofer Lundin
Zurich opera-goers have been eagerly anticipating “Opera Director of the Year” Barrie Kosky’s first new production and he chose, together with Intendant Andreas Homoki, La Fanciulla. Kosky visualises the action not necessarily in the Wild West with cowboys and Indians, but in some far-flung godforsaken mining hamlet, cut off from the rest of the world; it could be Eastern Europe or South American or anywhere: it matters not. We are in contemporary times with contemporary grunge costumes. The faces of the miners were aptly besmirched with soot.

 

I find it hard when seeing Fanciulla to dispel the vivid memories I have of Domingo, Neblett and Gwynne Howell (as the wandering minstrel) under Zubin Mehta decades ago at Covent Garden which I was very fortunate to have witnessed (and sorry that my Seen & Heard reviewing colleague Robert J. Farr had to miss). I recall clearly that the production was utterly traditional (and rather cheesy) but nonetheless impressive – the singing, of course, quite beyond reproach. Kosky’s production packs a grittier punch. There is not much of a set, a bare bar, falling to bits. Minnie’s room could be some cheap social housing, with a tawdry net curtain and simple iron-railing bed, the final scene is a bare space covered in coal. The miners don helmets with lamps for the very opening of the opera, behind a gauze for added effect, and again at the end – a nice illuminating touch. There is also some very persuasive acting, particularly by Scott Hendricks as Jack Rance, the Sheriff.

 

Kosky described American soprano Catherine Naglestad as “the perfect package” combining her wonderful voice with intelligence, humour, theatricality and sexuality. That about sums her up – her singing is indeed perfect. Kosky sees Jack Rance and Dick Johnson as neither black nor white but fascinating mixtures. Scott Hendricks sings with a dark baritone and conjured up images of Scarpia. Zoran Todorovich improved as the opera went on, his top note in Act I went horribly awry, later on his intonation improved but the voice is rather harsh though never lacks volume. The minor roles are all well taken: Sunnyboy Dladla was very pleasing as Nick, Pavel Daniluk a sonorous Jack Ashby. Cheyne Davison found the part of Sonora a perfect vocal fit. Yurij Tsiple as the minstrel Jack Wallace has the best tune of the opera and he reappeared before the final scene to strum the soulful tune on a banjo – a mite unnecessary.

 

The male chorus was very fine with their shouts of “Minnie” and humming choruses.

 

At the end of the performance we see Jack Rance, delirious with rage and envy, as Dick Johnson (aka Ramerrez, leader of the bandits) is released from the gallows after Minnie’s persuasive pleading with the miners and allowed to ride off into the sunset with his beloved. Dick takes a gun to his head and we are left to wonder whether he then shoots himself.

 

In the pit Marco Armiliato is a seasoned Italian opera hand and he injected plenty of Latin fire into the Swiss players. I had forgotten intricacies of the score, which Armiliato brought to light. The woodwind section, in particular, were a glory.

 

Not perhaps a Fanciulla to rank with the very great but with the extremely fine.

 

 

John Rhodes

 

 

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