La fanciulla del West

La fanciulla del West
Opera by Giacomo Puccini
Emmy Destinn as Minnie.jpg
"Una partita a poker" – a crucial scene with Emmy Destinn in the title role in the premiere
TranslationThe Girl of the West
  • Guelfo Civinini
  • Carlo Zangarini
Based onDavid Belasco's play The Girl of the Golden West
10 December 1910 (1910-12-10)

La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the 1905 play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belasco. Fanciulla followed Madama Butterfly, which was also based on a Belasco play. The opera has fewer of the show-stopping highlights that characterize Puccini's other works, but is admired for its impressive orchestration and for a score that is more melodically integrated than is typical of his previous work. Fanciulla displays influences from composers Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss,[1] without being in any way imitative. Similarities between the libretto and the work of Richard Wagner have also been found,[1][2] though some attribute this more to the original plot of the play,[2] and have asserted that the opera remains quintessentially Italian.[1]

The opera had a successful and highly publicised premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, in 1910.[3] Nevertheless, while Puccini deemed it one of his greatest works, La fanciulla del West has become a less popular opera within the composer's repertoire, drawing a mixed public reception overall.[1][4] Despite the plot being a source of significant criticism, the majority of academics and musicians agree in calling it a magnum opus, particularly lauding its craftmanship.[1] The conductor of the work's premiere, Arturo Toscanini, called the opera a "great symphonic poem".[1]

Performance history

Disegno per copertina di libretto, drawing for La fanciulla del West (1954).

La fanciulla del West was commissioned by, and first performed at, the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 10 December 1910 with Met stars Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn for whom Puccini created the leading roles of Dick Johnson and Minnie. However, after Puccini saw Gilda dalla Rizza as Minnie at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in 1921, he remarked, "At last I have seen my true Fanciulla."[5] Also in the cast was Pasquale Amato as Jack Rance. The Met's music director Arturo Toscanini conducted.[6] This was the first world premiere of an opera at the Met,[7] and it was initially well received in the United States. However, it was never quite as popular in Europe, except perhaps in Germany. There it enjoyed a triumphant premiere at the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin (now known as the Deutsche Oper) in March 1913, under the musical direction of Ignatz Waghalter.

Other premieres took place in London on 29 May 1911 at Covent Garden Theatre; in Rome on 12 June 1911 at the Teatro Costanzi; at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires on 25 July 1911; and in Melbourne on 11 June 1912 at Her Majesty's Theatre.

A performance from April 11, 1966 was the very first performance at the current Lincoln Center home, at the time, was almost completed.

It is presented from time to time, but is not performed nearly as often as Puccini's other mature operas. The Metropolitan Opera presented the work in its 2010/11 season to mark the work's 100th anniversary.[8]


Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson
Roles, voice types, premiere cast
RoleVoice typePremiere cast, 10 December 1910
Conductor: Arturo Toscanini
MinniesopranoEmmy Destinn
Jack Rance, sheriffbaritonePasquale Amato
Dick Johnson alias Ramerrez, bandittenorEnrico Caruso
Nick, bartender at the Polka saloontenorAlbert Reiss
Ashby, Wells Fargo agentbassAdamo Didur
Sonora, minerbaritoneDinh Gilly
Trin, minertenorAngelo Badà
Sid, minerbaritoneGiulio Rossi
Bello,[N 1] minerbaritoneVincenzo Reschiglian
Harry, minertenorPietro Audisio
Joe, minertenorGlenn Hall
Happy, minerbaritoneAntonio Pini-Corsi
Jim Larkens, minerbassBernard Bégué
Billy Jackrabbit, a Red IndianbassGeorges Bourgeois
Wowkle, his squawmezzo-sopranoMarie Mattfeld
Jake Wallace, a traveling camp minstrelbaritoneAndrés de Segurola
José Castro, a mestizo "greaser", from Ramirez' bandbassEdoardo Missiano
The Pony Express ridertenorLamberto Belleri
Men of the camp and boys of the ridge
  1. ^ Bello is often named Handsome in productions in English speaking countries


Time:1849 to 1850.
Place: A mining camp at the foot of the Cloudy Mountains, California.[9]

Act 1

Inside the Polka Saloon

A group of Gold Rush miners enter the "Polka" saloon after a day working at the mine ("Hello! Hello! Alla 'Polka'"). After a song by traveling minstrel Jake Wallace ("Che faranno i vecchi miei"), one of the miners, Jim Larkens, is homesick and the miners collect enough money for his fare home ("Jim, perché piangi?").

A group of miners playing cards discover that Sid is cheating and want to attack him. Sheriff Jack Rance quiets the fight and pins two cards to Sid's jacket, as a sign of a cheat.

A Wells Fargo agent, Ashby, enters and announces that he is chasing the bandit Ramerrez and his gang of Mexicans. Rance toasts Minnie, the woman who owns the saloon, as his future wife, which makes Sonora jealous. The two men begin to fight. Rance draws his revolver but at that moment, a shot rings out and Minnie stands next to the bar with a rifle in her hands ("Hello, Minnie!"). She gives the miners a reading lesson from the Bible ("Dove eravamo?").

The Pony Express rider arrives ("La posta!") and delivers a telegram from Nina Micheltorena, offering to reveal Ramerrez's hideout. The sheriff tells Minnie that he loves her, but Minnie puts him off as she is waiting for the right man ("Ti voglio bene, Minnie").

A stranger enters the saloon and asks for a whisky and water. He introduces himself as Dick Johnson from Sacramento, whom Minnie had met earlier. Johnson invites Minnie to dance with him and she accepts. Angrily, Rance watches them.

Ashby returns with the captured Ramerrez gang member, Castro. Upon seeing his leader, Johnson, in the saloon, Castro agrees to lead Rance, Ashby and the miners in a search for Ramerrez, and the group then follows him on a false trail and in what turns out to be a wild goose chase. But before Castro leaves, he whispers to Johnson that somebody will whistle and Johnson must reply to confirm that the place is clear. A whistle is heard, but Johnson fails to reply.

Minnie shows Johnson the keg of gold that she and the miners take turns to guard at night and Johnson reassures her that the gold will be safe there. Before he leaves the saloon, he promises to visit her at her cabin. They confess their love for each other. Minnie begins to cry, and Johnson comforts her before he leaves.

Act 2

Minnie's dwelling, later that evening

Wowkle, a Native American woman who is Minnie's servant, her lover Billy Jackrabbit and their baby are present as Minnie enters, wanting to get ready for Johnson's visit. Johnson enters Minnie's cabin and she tells him all about her life. It begins to snow. They kiss and Minnie asks him to stay till morning. He denies knowing Nina Micheltorena. As Johnson hides, a posse enters looking for Ramerrez and reveal to Minnie that Johnson is the bandit Ramerrez himself. Angry, she orders Johnson to leave. After he leaves, Minnie hears a gunshot and she knows Johnson has been shot. Johnson staggers in and collapses, Minnie helps him by hiding him up in the loft. Rance enters Minnie's cabin looking for the bandit and is about to give up searching for Johnson when drops of blood fall on his hand. Rance forces Johnson to climb down. Minnie desperately makes Rance an offer: if she beats him at poker, he must let Johnson go free; if Rance wins, she will marry him. Hiding some cards in her stockings, Minnie cheats and wins. Rance honors the deal and Minnie throws herself on the unconscious Johnson on the floor.

Scene from act 3 of the premiere, with Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn, and Pasquale Amato

Act 3

In the Great Californian Forest at dawn, sometime later

Johnson is again on the run from Ashby and the miners. Nick and Rance are discussing Johnson and wonder what Minnie sees in him when Ashby arrives in triumph: Johnson has been captured. Rance and the miners all want Johnson to be hanged. Johnson accepts the sentence and only asks the miners not to tell Minnie about his capture and his fate ("Ch'ella mi creda"). Minnie arrives, armed with a pistol, just before the execution and throws herself in front of Johnson to protect him. While Rance tries to proceed, she convinces the miners that they owe her too much to kill the man she loves, and asks them to forgive him ("Ah! Ah! E Minnie!"). One by one, the miners yield to her plea ("E anche tu lo vorrai, Joe"). Rance is not happy but finally he too gives in. Sonora unties Johnson and sets him free. The miners bid Minnie farewell ("Le tue parole sono di Dio"). Minnie and Johnson leave California to start a new life together.


La fanciulla del West is scored for piccolo; three flutes; three oboes; one English horn; three clarinets in B-flat; one bass clarinet in B-flat; three bassoons; one contrabassoon; four French horns in F; three trumpets in F; three tenor trombones; one bass trombone; a percussion section with timpani, cymbals, one triangle, one snare drum, one bass drum, and one glockenspiel; three onstage fonicas[a]; one celesta; two harps; and strings.[11]


YearCast: (Minnie,
Dick Johnson,
Jack Rance)
Opera house and orchestra
1950Carla Gavazzi,
Vasco Campagnano,
Ugo Savarese
Arturo Basile,
RAI Orchestra and Chorus, Milan
CD: Warner Fonit
Cat: 8573 87488-2
1956Gigliola Frazzoni,
Franco Corelli,
Tito Gobbi
Antonino Votto,
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and Chorus
(Recording of a performance at La Scala, 4 April)
CD: Opera d'Oro
Cat: 7036
1957Magda Olivero,
Giacomo Lauri-Volpi,
Giangiacomo Guelfi
Vincenzo Bellezza 
1958Renata Tebaldi,
Mario Del Monaco,
Cornell MacNeil
Franco Capuana,
Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Decca
Cat: 421595
1958Birgit Nilsson,
João Gibin,
Andrea Mongelli
Lovro von Matačić,
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and chorus
CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 81862[13]
1961Renata Tebaldi,
Daniele Barioni,
Giangiacomo Guelfi
Arturo Basile,
Roma Italiana Opera Orchestra e Coro
CD: Opera d'Oro
1963Antonietta Stella,
Gastone Limarilli,
Anselmo Colzani
Oliviero De Fabritiis,
NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, Nikikai Chorus, Fujiwara Opera Chorus
DVD: Video Artists Int'l
Cat: 4439
1977Carol Neblett,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherrill Milnes
Zubin Mehta,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
CD:Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 419640
1982Carol Neblett,
Plácido Domingo,
Silvano Carroli
Nello Santi,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Kultur Video
Cat: 032031203891
1991Éva Marton,
Dennis O'Neill,
Alain Fondary
Leonard Slatkin,
Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Chorus
CD: RCA Victor Red Seal
Cat: 60597
1991Mara Zampieri,
Plácido Domingo,
Juan Pons
Lorin Maazel,
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and chorus
DVD: BBC / Opus Arte
Cat: OA LS3004 D
1992Barbara Daniels,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherrill Milnes
Leonard Slatkin,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4023
2011Deborah Voigt,
Marcello Giordani,
Lucio Gallo
Nicola Luisotti,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 80016679-09
2013Nina Stemme,
Jonas Kaufmann,
Tomasz Konieczny
Franz Welser-Möst,
Wiener Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus
Blu-ray: Sony Records
Cat: 88875064079

Other influences

The melody for Jake Wallace's song near the beginning of the first act is derived from two songs in a collection of Zuni melodies "recorded and harmonized" by ethnomusicologist Carlos Troyer, published in 1909. Puccini had obtained this publication in an effort to find authentic Native American music for the role of Wowkle, but he ended up using it for Jake Wallace instead. (Several books about Puccini repeat Mosco Carner's claim that the song is based on Stephen Foster's "Old Dog Tray"; it is not.)[14]

A climactic phrase sung by Johnson, "E provai una gioia strana" (alternatively "Ho provato una gioia strana" in some versions of the libretto) from "Quello che tacete" near the end of the first act, is widely cited to resemble a similar phrase in the Phantom's song "The Music of the Night" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera.[15][16][17][18] The Puccini estate sued Lloyd Webber over copyright infringement and the matter was settled out of court.

The opera was first portrayed in film in 1915 by famed director Cecil B. DeMille, and subsequently by directors Edwin Carewe in 1923, and John Francis Dillon, whose 1930 film was lost. A 1938 film directed by Robert Z. Leonard was based not on the opera but on the original play by Belasco, who wrote the screenplay; Sigmund Romberg wrote songs for this film.

Notes and references


  1. ^ The fonica is an electronic instrument invented by Puccini for La fanciulla del West. Casa Ricordi had a set created and rented them out for early productions of the opera, but the result was unsatisfactory and the instrument's use was ceased shortly after the premiere. A marimba is commonly substituted in modern productions.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Fisher, Burton D. (2005). Opera Classics Library Series: Puccini's the Girl of the Golden West. Opera Journeys Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-0977145591.
  2. ^ a b Amesen, Iris J. (2009). The Romantic World of Puccini. McFarland. p. 27. ISBN 978-0786444823.
  3. ^ Hamilton 1987, p. .
  4. ^ Fairtile, Linda (1998). Giacomo Puccini: A Guide to Research. Volume 1906 of Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Volume 48 of Garland composer resource manuals. Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 978-0815320333.
  5. ^ Colin Kendell, The Complete Puccini, Amberley Publishing 2012
  6. ^ Smith 2004, p. 544.
  7. ^ Randall & David 2006, p. 42.
  8. ^ La fanciulla del West at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010/11
  9. ^ La fanciulla del West libretto, Franco Colombo, New York, 1847 at the Internet Archive
  10. ^ Linda B. Fairtile (1998). Giacomo Puccini: A Guide to Research. Routledge Music Bibliographies (1st ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-0815320333.
  11. ^ Giacomo Puccini (2005). La fanciulla del West. Ricordi (reprint ed.). Ricordi. ISBN 978-1423403470.
  12. ^ Recordings of La fanciulla on
  13. ^ Puccini: La fanciulla del West / Matacic, Nilsson, et al. | ArkivMusic
  14. ^ Atlas, Allan W., "Belasco and Puccini: 'Old Dog Tray' and the Zuni Indians", The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 3, Autumn, 1991, pp. 362–398.
  15. ^ "La fanciulla del West review" by David Patrick Stearns, Gramophone, December 2011
  16. ^ "La fanciulla del West, Opera Holland Park London" by Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 21 June 2004
  17. ^ "Review: La fanciulla del West/Lyric Opera" by Dennis Polkow, Newcity Stage
  18. ^ "Quello che tacete" (La fanciulla del West) on YouTube; the excerpt in question sung by Daniele Barioni

Cited sources

  • Hamilton, David, ed. (1987). The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671617325.
  • Randall, Annie J.; David, Rosalind G. (2006). Puccini & the Girl: history and reception of The Girl of the Golden West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226703894.
  • Smith, Peter Fox (2004). A Passion for Opera. Trafalgar Square Books. ISBN 978-1570762802.

Other sources

  • Holden, Amanda (ed.) (2001). The New Penguin Opera Guide. New York: Penguin PutnamISBN 0140293124
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992). The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. New York: Oxford University PressISBN 0198691645

External links

Media files used on this page

Author/Creator: Javitomad, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Logo for Opera WikiProject.
Fanciulla premiere - hanging.jpg
La fanciulla del West (1910), opera by Giacomo Puccini, scene from act 3 of the premiere, with Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn, and Pasquale Amato. Image taken from – due to age it's PD in the US
Enrico Caruso IV.png
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), in Puccini's opera La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), full length portrait, standing, facing left
Emmy Destinn as Minnie.jpg
"Una partita a poker" - a crucial scene from the opera La fanciulla del West by Puccini
Minnie - Emmy Destinn; Johnson - Enrico Caruso; Sheriff Jack Rance - Pasquale Amato