Germany Puccini: La Fanciulla del West, Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester, Male Chorus Oper Frankfurt, Sebastian Weigle (conductor), Opernhaus Frankfurt, 9.6.2013 (JMI)
Production: Royal Opera Stockholm
Direction: Christof Loy (original)
Anna Tomson (revival)
Sets and costumes: Herbert Murauer
Lighting: Bernd Purkrabek
Minnie: Eva-Maria Westbroek
Dick Johnson: Carlo Ventre
Jack Rance: Ashley Holland
Nick: Peter Marsh
Sonora: Simon Bailey
Ashby: Alfred Reiter
Christof Loy did a traditional stage production in the first two acts which take place at the Polka Saloon and at Minnie’s cabin. Only in the third act did he move the action from an outdoor setting to an inside space which was too similar to the Polka Saloon in the first act. The sets and costumes were conventional but well suited, and omitted nothing specified in the libretto.
Loy narrated the story as a kind of tribute to silent Westerns, starting with the projection of credits on a screen where we see an Amazon (Minnie) riding through Monument Valley, coming straight to the front, and dismounting from the horse just at the precise time that the projection stops − and then Minnie with her guns appears on stage. It was received with laughter and an ovation from the audience. At various points, including during the poker game, images were projected at the back with the artists in black and white, as if it were a movie. The stage direction really was first-rate, as is usual with Christof Loy, who did a great job with comprimarios and choir.
Many people think – and I guess they are right – that La Fanciulla del West is the most Wagnerian among Puccini operas due to its spectacular orchestral treatment. It is not, therefore, surprising that the top maestros want to conduct it. A few days ago it was Lorin Maazel − in concert − in Corunna. In Frankfurt the baton was taken up by the music director of the Oper Frankfurt, Sebastian Weigle, who rarely leaves the German repertoire. If I’ve been correctly informed, it was the first time he conducted a Puccini opera. His reading was brilliant, very dramatic, and gave such prominence to the orchestra that singers had to fight the gale coming from the pit. I would have preferred a more balanced reading that would have made the lyrical moments of the score more evident, but the Frankfurter Opern und Museumsorchester offered great sound.
The protagonist, Minnie, was Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, well suited to the demands of the character and very convincing as a performer. She cuts a dramatic soprano, with remarkable volume, good technique and expressiveness, in addition to being a gifted actress. Her exclamation Tre assi e un paio at the end of the poker game was anthological. I find that she has lost harmonics at the top, which I didn’t notice a couple of years back. I understand that she has recently asumed the role of Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.
Carlo Ventre was a smooth Dick Johnson, shining, as usual, on the high notes, but his middle range does not have the same quality.
British baritone Ashley Holland was adequate as Sheriff Jack Rance. His voice is wide and somewhat opaque, but its projection is rather poor in the middle, which makes him frequently overpowered by the orchestra.
Among the secondary characters there were good performances from Peter Marsh (Nick), Simon Bailey (Sonora) and Alfred Reiter (Ashby). The rest of the large cast was sound, and I have to mention the sonorous Wowkle, Elisabeth Hornung.
The theater was at about 85% of capacity. The audience was very warm towards the artists, with the biggest cheers for Eva-Maria Westbroek.
José Mª. Irurzun