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La Fanciulla Del West: Metropolitan Opera (Slatkin) [DVD]  [NTSC]
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Puccini's penultimate opera is based on David Belasco's play, set at the height of the notorious Californian gold rush. Performances from Placido Domingo, Barbara Daniels, Sherrill Milnes, Anthony Laciura and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
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Top Customer Reviews
Barbara Daniels was great although a small bit too expressive i thought! I know how can you be too expressive when you are playing a gun touting, bilble basher! Well you can(too much teeth) i know her teeth better than i know my own at this stage!! lol. But her singing was second to none.
Domingo was fantastic as always brought more depth this time to the role of johnson. Preferred his voice acting better in covent garden version.
I love this! Im gonna have to alternate between the 2 productions cause i cant pick one over the other.
Well done the Met on a great production
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The title role is sung by American soprano Barbara Daniels. She has a huge and beautiful voice, without any sign of shrillness or stridency. She is a terrific Minnie both in singing and acting. Placido Domingo gives a master performance of the bandit Dick Johnson. He recorded the role four times. From the musical point of view, his best recording is the studio DG recording from 1978. But Domingo is a great stage performer and actor. He is especially convincing in the portrayal of the vulnerable side of this figure. Baritone Sherril Milnes sings the villain, sheriff Jack Rance. In the seventies and early eighties he was one of the leading baritones in the world. In the early nineties his voice lost something of its power, but is still impressive in comparison to many of his younger colleagues. Like Domingo he is using his long stage experience and is an especially mean and cynical villain.
Met singers do beautifully the many minor roles. Kim Josephson is an excellent Sonora. Dwayne Croft, one of the leading Met baritones today, sings Larkens, which is a very small role.
There are three DVD versions of this opera. All feature Placido Domingo. The La scala 1991 production that is conducted by Lorin Maazel is very good, but the timbre of Mara Zampieri in the title role will not be to everyone's taste, and Juan Pons as the sheriff is not as cruel and nasty like Sherril Milnes. The 1983 Covent Garden production that is conducted by Nello Santi is wonderful too. But Carol Neblett, another impressive American soprano, sings well, but hers acting is a little wooden in comparison to Barbara Daniels.
So the new DG DVD is currently my first choice for this opera on DVD. I highly recommend it even to those who are not especially Puccini's fans. There is little of the sentimentality that dominates works like La Boheme or Madama Butterfly. Nobody dies in this opera; actually, there is a happy ending... And this opera really must be seen, not just heard: it is an impressive and effective stage experience and music drama
The singers here are near perfect, (the cast recorded the Opera in 1978 wonderfully)
Milnes is a menacing rance, he is brooding, and oozes Machismo and roughness. He looks just as you would imagine Jack Rance. Although this production takes place after his vocal surgery, which began a long decline in his singing, he sounds perfect here. The bit of extra strain and darker tone adds to the charachter and is not bothersome enough to ruin the line of the music.
Domingo, sings the same Ramirez which is recorded 3 times on DVD. It is a subtle, well acted and vocally declamatory. The role suits his ringing, baritonal voice well. Watch him dance with Minnie, he is truly in love. He steals the shows in the final act, where his aria brings down the house.
Barbara Daniels, real completes the show. She can truly handle the heft of Minnie, her voice is the complete ideal. Her top is blooming and glorious. As if this werent satisfying enough, she also looks a hot minnie. Her portrayal is concentrated and, occasionaly, frighteningly intense.
Special mention should be made for Anthony Laciura who portrays Nick. Laciura has been the met's premiere Comprimaro for many years, and this shows why. Not only does his voice have bloom and projection, but he creates a character, (something that almost no charachter-tenors can do) From his hillarious hygene issues to his honest care of minnie, he adds credibility to the drama.
You have to see the disc to understand why I am so enthusiastic, but I'll do my best to put it into words. This production is classic Met, with singers ideally suited for their parts, marvelous conducting and breathtaking sets that are realistic and consistent with the drama.
Barbara Daniels, a singer whose career I have not followed(unfortunately, at least if her performance here is any indication), comes across as a great interpreter of Puccini, her Minnie is sweet and tender and girlish, a fully realized character who also happens to be terrifically sung. The voice is lovely, powerful, but it is her acting that really bowled me over. For instance, there is one moment in the second act(strangely enough, right before the disc jams up on the defective copies...maybe those DVDs were overcome to the point of speechlessness) where she puts her male houseguest to bed and blows out a candle and the camera closes in on her face and her expression is just priceless, full of the sweetness and girlishness I mentioned above, coy and flirty but also innocent. This is the kind of moment a person sitting in the theater would miss out on, but the camera memorializes it so that the TV viewer can bask in its charm. That, my friends, is acting above and beyond the call of duty, and this moment alone is worth the price of admission. Placido Domingo is the star tenor, singing what is reportedly one of his favorite roles, that of the unfortunately named Dick Johnson(and all you Beavis and Butthead types out there will kindly stop snickering, thank you). Domingo is no spring chicken at this point, there's a certain jowliness to his features starting to override his movie star looks, but his vocal prowess shows no indications of flagging, and the energy and passion he commands onstage are both at a zenith. His high notes are still piercing...does this guy ever have an off night? The always reliable Sherill Milnes is a great choice for the role of Jack Rance, his sinister expressions and deep, seductive baritone voice make him the ideal villain(although Rance is certainly no straight villain role in the mold of Baron Scarpia, even though the characters share certain similarities). Milnes is such a trooper that you almost wish a producer would alter the storyline just once so he could finally get the girl. Leonard Slatkin and his orchestra's interpretation of Puccini's music is breathy and evocative, masterfully capturing every ripple, every lilt, every curve of this supple score, one of the composer's best(I love this music!). Technically, this is a by-the-book presentation in that the conductor doesn't color the music with any personal indulgences(not always a bad thing), still the reading couldn't be any more ardent because, really, how can you improve on what Puccini himself wrote down? The sets are spectacular, combined with the acting they give the impression of watching a Hollywood western. Act two's multifaceted set is especially notable, featuring a two-leveled interior(Minnie's cabin) as well as the great outdoors, complete with a pine tree laden forest and a genuine snowstorm! Brian Large's video direction is top of the line as always...the closeup of Minnie I mentioned above and a long shot of the happy couple embracing in the snow are highlights.
I've never understood the slams directed at this opera. Critics snipe at how unrealistic it seems having American prospectors singing in the language of Puccini. Is that any more unrealistic than ancient Egyptians(Aida) or Japanese peasants(Madama Butterfly) singing in Italian, or Celtic warriors and maidens singing in German(Tristan und Isolde)? This is opera, folks! I remember reading that Puccini considered this his favorite score, and the more I experience it the more I think he might have been right. It's more through-composed but no less melodic than many of his other scores. Dramatically, the story is a little corny and unbelievable, but it is also quite moving. The relationship between Minnie and the miners is endearing, and it leads to a conclusion that is satisfyingly bittersweet, a change of pace for the composer and a mood that is probably more difficult to pull off than a straight sad or happy ending. Besides, the story isn't so far removed from other Puccini operas...it has a strong romantic interest, a villain who tries to strike a deal for the hand of the woman he wants, using the life of her lover as collateral, eventually being outsmarted by the woman(a la Tosca), plus the card scene(three hands) foreshadows the three riddles in Turandot.
I love La Fanciulla del West, and will continue to love it no matter how many critics try to devalue its rapturous beauty. Addio!
As for the singers, they are some of the best i've heard to sing fanciulla! The MET orchestra and chorus are stellar of course, as are the supporting roles. Barbara Daniels has a big, round voice, which is both beautiful and powerful. Her acting is believable and she certainly looks the part. Domingo proves that even in 1992 he could sing the demanding role of Dick Johnson with both credibility and intensity. Milnes projects both the jealousy and honor of this untraditional "villain" especially well. He is not evil, nor is he virtuous.
Now a word on the opera itself. It is Puccini's most daring work, which endears itself through its unconventional melodies and a miraculous sort of genuineness. This production projects the "western" spirit of this opera, which I believe is the crux of the work. The melodies characterize this spirit, as do the magnificent sets and singers. I warn though....this is not quite the same Puccini most are accustomed to, so if you are looking for another Boheme, this is not it. It is, however, equally moving, if not more so. There is no cheesy, drawn out death scene--in fact, no one dies. What there is, however, is heart-wrenching nostalgia and intensly human jealousy, sympathy, and tragedy.