La Fanciulla is one of my favorite operas so I was pleased to get this DVD. Sat right down and watched it on the day it arrived. I had a very mixed response to it. (Yes, the overture sequence was interesting.) I disliked the set tremendously; I am very fond of the one they have used at Covent Garden, and liked the one at the San Francisco Opera. Both of those are much more wild-west in feeling than this one. I felt as though this one was being staged in somebody's (Swedish) house, or in a restaurant. I was also put off by having Minnie hanging around in something that looked like an office, both in Act One and even worse in Act Three. She should burst upon the scene, always. (The way she does at the end of the overture.) How can I take it seriously that she is lounging around in her office while they're getting ready to hang Dick Johnson (in the restaurant!)? Doesn't she hear? Doesn't she care? Why doesn't she just do something? Very distracting. Two other things I disliked were her costumes. She looked like a tart in a bathrobe with a bad haircut. This is not the Gold Rush -- unless it is the Chaplin movie, and some of the barbering of the cast indicated it might be. Also, the lighting in Act Two was hideous. Film Noir. I could light it better in my own living room.
In terms of the performance itself, I didn't care for Nina Stemme when she is attempting to be tender and innocent. When she's angry, wow! Super. In that sense, the second half of Act Two was tremendous. I'm a bit on the fence about her voice in general, and of course Minnie sort of screams a lot in a not so gorgeous way, but as I said, in the dramatic crunch she was riveting. John Lundgren showed both the aggression and the vulnerability of Jack Rance. Nobody can equal Roberto Frontali for me, but Lundgren was pretty good for not being Frontali. I found Aleksandrs Antonenko very good to listen to and quite fascinating to watch. He emanates many layers of complexity in this good guy turned bad guy who wants to be a good guy. I like hearing a robust tenor who seems secure about his voice and also seems secure about himself. Niklas Bjorling Rygert (sorry, my keyboard doesn't seem to have an umlaut) was a standout as Nick. (It helped that he was shorter and more blonde and costumed more vividly than the miners, so you can tell who's who, but also he just did a fine job.) Agneta Lundgren gave us a warm, romantic, sympathetic Wowkle. (Quite a feat considering the dismal dialogue she is stuck with.) The fast action in Act Two was breathtaking; watching Ramirrez plunge into a snowstorm without his coat made his intention very clear, despair to the point of suicide.
So after all my complaints, why did I rate this so high? The portrayal of not only the individual dramas but the collective, crowd interactions of the miners became, by Act Three, poignant beyond what I have seen in other Fanciullas. It was absolutely clear in Act Three that the miners were evilly piling accusation upon accusation, wanting to destroy Ramirrez utterly. It was a chilling portrayal of crowd violence that had had its foreshadowing in the card game violence in Act One. Minnie's appeals to the individuals, given as she cradles Ramirrez, are more powerfully done than in productions in which the darkness of the miner's attitudes is skipped over. And the farewell they sing to Minnie and Johnson as they leave is -- I only just noticed this in this production -- an echo, a revisiting, of the troubador's song of loneliness. In Act One they were lonely for their various homelands; in Act Three they are again bereft, and this time it is pretty clear that they chose their bereavement by driving Minnie and Ramirrez away.
An elderly gentlemen whom I sat next to at the San Francisco Fanciulla in 2010 said he had always wondered, until that night, what on earth that Bible lesson had to do with anything. He said he'd just realized that it is the center of the whole opera.
This production makes that completely clear. I will be looking at this DVD many times, not just the once.