Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ENO: Richard Jones' The Girl of the Golden West (La fanciulla del West) ★★★★★

It’s been an interesting year for English National Opera (ENO). Ever since the funding cuts from the Arts Council and onslaught of mixed reviews for their recent productions of Xerxes and Otello, it appeared that the ENO were getting a bit of a bad reputation. They were criticised for poor stage direction, lack of imagination and, repeatedly, denounced for their use of English in Italian operas; yet Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s The Girl from the Golden West (La fanciulla del West) has bolstered up standards, reviving hope and optimism for the ENO stage. 

Puccini’s ‘magnus opus’ namely La fanciulla del West is said to be his best work and from the score alone there's no denying that the opera, which flourishes with melody, grandeur and influences from Debussy, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, can captivate even the coldest philistine. The prosperity of the opera stems from Puccini's ability to capture the Western mysticism of the 1850s' Californian Gold Rush. Despite, the opera, having little prominence, like La Rondine, the ENO's production, with Susan Bullock’s masterful voice, Miriam Buether's tough Western set designs and delightful chorus singers, will make audiences’ emotions overflow.
The conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who had her UK operatic debut, instills grace and tenderness into Puccini’s score as he would have foreseen it. The music soars and reaches a climax in the overture, Minnie’s on stage entrance and the lovers ‘first kiss’ scene; yet this triumphant music interweaves nicely to compliment Minnie's self-efficient and heroine-like character. The ENO male chorus do an impeccable job too portraying homesick miners, parading in a saloon with guns and gambling cards.

Our cast is dressed close to a rough mining environment; but not as far back as the 1850s’s as Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini ‘s libretto describes it. Buether's stage is set up like a Western saloon with large letters that read ‘POLKA’ at the top with brightly lit beer bottles neatly displayed on the wall. By act II we are presented with a two-floor cut out home and a US Marshall office by the third act with nothing special attached to it; but this - just - demonstrates how profound the music and easy to follow the story line truly is.
Minnie (Bullock) is the woman of the miners' town who teaches stories from the bible and is loved by all particularly the Sheriff, Rance (Craig Colclough) who she rejects after numerous proposals including $1000 just for a kiss. She sings, 'Real love cannot be purchased’ and insists on waiting for the right man and then, enters Dick Johnson from Sacramento (Peter Auty) who bedazzles her with metaphors and adorable dancing though, it turns out that, Dick is actually the Spanish bandit, Ramerrez who the town want dead. This puts Minnie’s character under the spotlight, which is why she's an interesting prima donna: she's no damsel in distress. 

Bullock's Minnie is an outstanding one as her independent spirit radiates through Bullock's exuberant top notes. There’s always a thin line between screaming and singing; yet Bullock manages to give an astounding performance without crossing the line. Auty's Ramerrez was also charming and a good match for Minnie who released poignancy in their love duets, in act II, with the company of flutes and strings, even if sung with an American accent. Their voices gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.  
Colclough’s Rance was a seedy baritone who lusted for Minnie’s body; yet what’s interesting is that although Rance plays the jealous bad cop, his character is balanced out through his reluctance to hurt Minnie, in the end, which proves he's not the token baddie after all. Other great voices included Graham Clark as Nick, Sonora by Leigh Melrose and Jake Wallace sung exquisitely by George Humphreys. Going back to the debacle on the ENO’s use of English, considering that the opera was set in the Wild West English was - perhaps - the most appropriate and ideal language to employ to The Girl of the Golden West, which was perfectly translated by Kelley Rourke. This made such an incredible difference that tops up the amazing and breathtaking score of Puccini. Well done ENO!


Click here for more details - Showing until 1st November 2014 at the ENO.
I purchased my ticket for the opera.