City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

La Fanciulla Del West Review

By Iain Gilmour - Posted on 26 August 2010

La Fanciulla Del West
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The Usher Hall
The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, conductor Francesco Corti. Edinburgh Festival Chorus (male voices), chorus master Christopher Bell.
Running time: 
Concert performance of La Fanciulla del West,opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini
Susan Bullock (Minnie), Carl Tanner (Dick Johnson), Juhu Uusitatalo (Jack Rance), Colin Judson (Nick), Roland Wood) (Ashby), David Morrison (Billy Jackrabbit & Jose Castro), Louise Collett (Wowkle), Steven Faughey (Jake Wallace), Bruce Davie (Trin), Phil Gault (Sid), Paul Anwyl (Bello), Paul Featherstone (Harry), Nick Hardy (Joe), Jonathan Sedgwick (Happy), Anders Ostberg (Larkens), Declan McCusker (Pony Express rider). The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, conductor Francesco Corti. Edinburgh Festival Chorus (male voices), chorus master Christopher Bell.

Puccini’s seventh opera La Fanciulla, better known to most of us as The Girl of the Golden West, had a highly acclaimed premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, conducted by Toscanini with Emmy Destinn and Enrico Caruso in the demanding main roles. An intensely dramatic work positioned in the mountains of the Californian Gold Rush, it is rarely performed nowadays.

A Concert performance must therefore be welcomed, though this inevitably loses almost all the drama and many of the musical nuances of a fully-staged opera.

Despite the limitations, Susan Bullock as Minnie and Carl Tanner as her bandit leader lover Dick Johnson produced believable emotion in the lead roles. Unlike the other soloists, who relied on the scores on their music stands, the principals had learnt their parts perfectly and used the limited platform space available to gesture and move about, even at one crucial point sealing their love with a lengthy kiss.

Finnish baritone Juhu Uusitatalo, in the other major role as the sheriff Rance, was less impressive. The high point of his part came in second act card game where Minnie cheated successfully, dramatically winning Johnson’s freedom from the noose.

The men of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus were in good form, shouting enthusiastically as a bunch of miners at the outset, and with fewer decibels as the opera progressed,
Even they were drowned out at times by the thunderous sound created by the Scottish Opera

Orchestra. As for the soloists, they were at times almost inaudible, even in the front stalls, with their words lost in what should have been accompanying background.
The orchestra was big in numbers and conductor Francesco Corti gave them full reign.

With two harpists, one tympanist, at least three other percussion sections and extensive strings, the orchestra occupied so much of the platform that the actual singers seemed in danger of toppling into the audience. The total size made it impossible to envisage them in any theatre’s orchestral pit.

Their playing was excellent but nearly all at a volume that made one fear for the acoustics of the newly-refurbished Usher Hall.

“That’s the noisiest opera I’ve ever experienced,” one regular opera-goer said at the second interval.

Prolonged curtain calls and enthusiastic applause at the end showed the full house enjoyed and appreciated the opera. Two or three feeble “boos” were quickly silenced.