Puccini without a trace of ‘kitsch’ | Culture

The fan of the West

Music by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Carlo Zangarini and Guelfo Civinini. With Oksana Dyka, Marco Berti, Claudio Sgura, Francisco Vas, Manel Esteve and Paolo Battaglia, among others. Bilbao Opera Choir. Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa. Musical direction: Josep Caballé-Domenech. Stage director: Hugo de Ana. 68th season of ABAO-OLBE. Euskalduna Palace, until February 24.

“Enough with La bohème, Madama Butterfly and company, I'm up to the crown too! ” The sentence is his own Giacomo Puccini. And we read it inside a letter to its editor, Tito Ricordi, dated in New York, in February 1906. The composer was looking for a theme for his new opera. And he had attended several plays by David Belasco on Broadway, including The Girl of the Golden West. His impression was not enthusiastic: "I like the atmosphere of the West, but in all the pieces that I have seen I have found only some scene here and there, although never a simple line, all cumbersome, bad taste and old things." It was clear that the gestation of his seventh opera, The fan of the West, it wasn't going to be short or simple. His writing coincided with a deep artistic self-renewal. Puccini wanted to assimilate the new advances of Fights and Melisande, from Debussy, and from Salomeby Richard Strauss But he had to deal with a new and inexperienced couple of librettists. And overcome a serious marriage crisis.

Premiere, in 1910, in the Metropolitan of New York It was a resounding success, with Caruso as tenor star and Toscanini in the pit. But the opera did not work in the repertoire (the second New York production dates from 1929 and the third did not arrive until 32 years later). Puccini acknowledged that it was his best opera, although critics disagreed. Richard Aldrich published, in The New York Times, one of the most moderate reviews of the premiere: “One wonders if someone who knows the composer only through La bohème I would recognize him in this new opera 13 years later. ” And that question floated, last Saturday, at the Euskalduna Palace, during the premiere of the first production of this Puccinian title at the Association of Friends of the Opera of Bilbao (ABAO), after 67 years of history. A function dedicated to the memory of the soprano Mirella Freni, who was not only ABAO's Gold Medal, in 1975, but also a regular one on her stage at the Albia Coliseum, between 1961 and 1992.

The fan of the West It remains a rarity in opera houses, in general, and in the Spanish, in particular. It premiered here, in 1915, at the Liceo de Barcelona and returned in 1963, in 1925 he climbed the tables of the former Royal Theater of Madrid and the last production dates from 2009 at the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville, although seven years ago it was heard to the Symphony of Galicia under the direction of Lorin Maazel in concert version. The answer to that strangeness generated by this opera is understood from the brief initial prelude. Puccini opts for its most ambitious orchestration, with quadruple wood, quite metal, two harps and a large percussion, which allow multiple color details, from the most delicate to the thunderous. But his language is also surprising, with scales of whole tones and diatonic progressions, which show his assimilation of Debussy.

The conductor of the orchestra Josep Caballé-Domenech He opted for a frantic start, leading a more than competent and motivated Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa. But his ebb and flow game sounded somewhat unraveled in the prelude at such speed. It is a crucial passage to perceive the new orchestral perfume of Puccini. But also because it presents the two elements that symbolize the central theme of the opera: love as a redeeming force. And the prelude concludes with another reason, a cakewalk which represents Ramerrez, one of the many indigenous details that Puccini added to set the opera in the Far West. The three themes will sound many times throughout the opera.

With the beginning of the action, which is located in California, in a mining camp during the early gold rush, the tempo returned to normal. And Caballé-Domenech became the best of this production. He did an admirable job from the pit to weld with dynamism, tension and fluidity the different vocal ensembles that were happening. Puccini has up to 15 soloists in this opera, in addition to the three protagonists and a male choir, which include a waiter, eight miners, a transport agent, two Indians, a traveling singer, a mestizo and a mail. All have brief stellar moments both alone and together, not easy to fit naturally into an incessant action. The cast heard in Bilbao was very compact and mostly Spanish in the secondary. To highlight the comic as Nick of the tenor Francisco Vas, but also the Sonora of the baritone Manel Esteve and the Ashby of the bass Paolo Battaglia. And without forgetting the flow provided by the Bilbao Opera Choir.

The tenor Marco Berti and the soprano Oksana Dyka, during the second act of fan La fanciulla del West ’, last Saturday in Bilbao.

The tenor Marco Berti and the soprano Oksana Dyka, during the second act of fan La fanciulla del West ’, last Saturday in Bilbao.

One of the most important moments of the first act is the entrance of Minnie, the protagonist. Puccini has to arrive at a time of maximum tension and with an orchestral explosion of very sensual harmonies. It was musically one of the highlights of the first act. In The fan of the West we found a soprano-tenor-baritone love triangle similar to Rough, although with more contrasts and folds. Also a vocal style closer to the fluidity of the conversation that has limited lyric effusions.

The Ukrainian soprano Oksana Dyka He faced his first Minnie. And his performance showed plenty of resources, although he did not find all the nuances of the character. We speak of a demanding role at the musical level, with extremes of temperament and sensitivity, but also in the theatrical, for its psychological strength. Dyka started well, although he lost naturalness in the biblical reading. He was more comfortable in the dramatic passages than in the lyrics. Therefore, he turned the second act into the peak of his performance, both in the love duo (without the very difficult final part that Puccini added in 1922) and in the tense scene of the poker game. His appearance in the third act, to save his crush, was once again prominent, although the lieto fine of the opera lacked flight.

The voice of the Italian tenor Marco Berti it maintains vocal and acute sounds for Dick Johnson (Ramerrez), but it is inexpressive both physically and vocally. We check in his goodbye to life (Ch’ella my creda), the only Aryan of the entire opera, popularized during the First World War by Italian soldiers, who sang it to keep their spirits. And the baritone Claudio Sgura was a sheriff Jack Rance vocally sufficient and musically elegant, although without depth or contrasts.

Hugo de Ana is the stage manager of this ABAO co-production with the San Carlo Theater in Naples, which premiered in 2017. Adapts his usual monumentality and taste for tablau vivant with the atmosphere of spaghetti western by Sergio Leone. Incessant in the movement of the characters, but scarce in the direction of actors. What we see in the Polka hall of the first act and in the Californian forest of the third is a real bobbin lace that works quite well with music. But it improves in the second act, by combining a functional scenery with the poetic setting of the snow. In any case, it provides a visual component that does not clash with the most modern and ambitious score of Puccini. This is demonstrated by Anton Webern's famous testimony to his teacher Arnold Schönberg, after attending a function of The fan of the West in Vienna, in 1919: “A score with an original, splendid sound, and a surprise in each measure, without a trace of kitsch"


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