Can opera, an Italian art form dating back to the late 1500s, be an effective medium for a Western – that quintessentially American and (relatively) new genre? In the hands of Puccini, it can. In the vein of Gunsmoke, High Noon and literary bodice rippers with Fabio on the cover, comes The Girl of the West (La fanciulla del West) a hard-drinkin’, poker-playin’, bona fide Western … with an Italian operatic soundtrack. And, of course, the hero (or in this case, the heroine) rides off into the sunset.
Opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini Based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belasco. Time: 1850. The California Gold Rush Place: A mining camp at the foot of the Cloudy Mountains in the Sierra Nevadas.
The Action takes place at the foothills of Sierras during the 1840’s California Gold Rush.
ACT I Inside the Polka Saloon – just after dark. A group of miners enter the “Polka” saloon after days of mining for gold. The camp minstrel, Jake Wallace, sings a sentimental tune about home. This prompts one of the miners, Jim Larkens, to beg his friends to help him get home. The miners collect enough money for his fare home. A group playing cards discovers that Sid is cheating and about to hang him when the Sheriff, Jack Rance, stops the fight. He pins a card on Sid’s jacket as a sign of a cheater. Ashby, a Wells Fargo agent enters and announces that he and his posse are close to capturing the bandit Ramerrez and his gang. He tells Rance that he is meeting Ramerrez’s jilted lover, Nina Micheltoreňa later. “Hell hath no fury, and she’s ready to give him up.”
Rance toasts Minnie, the Girl of the West who he wants to be his wife. A jealous Sonora tells him Minnie is just playing around with him, and the two men begin to fight. Just then, a shot rings out and Minnie stands next to the bar with a rifle in her hands. After calming things down, she gives the miners their weekly reading lesson from the Bible. After the lesson, Rance tells Minnie he wants her to be his and that he’ll take care of her. Minnie puts him off telling him she wants what her parents had – true love. A stranger enters the Polka. He introduces himself as Dick Johnson from Sacramento. He is in fact, the outlaw Ramerrez, and has come to the Polka to steal the miner’s gold. He and Minnie had met months ago on the road from Monterrey, and fell into an unspoken love for each other. At this chance meeting, he invites Minnie to dance while Rance watches them, jealously.
Ashby and his men burst in with Jose Castro, a member of Ramerrez’s gang. Unkown to Ashby, Castro’s capture is part of the plan to rob the Polka. When Castro sees his disguised leader in the saloon, he feigns betrayal to Ramerrez and agrees to lead Rance in a search his hideout. Before Castro leaves, he whispers to Ramerrez that somebody will whistle to confirm that the place is clear, and he should confirm with his own signal. The miners join the possee and follow Castro in what turns out to be a wild goose chase. When the signal is given, Ramerrez fails to reply, as his attentions are now only fixed on Minnie. He reassures her that the gold will be safe. Before he leaves the saloon, she invites him to her cabin that night. As the bond between them grows, he tells her she has the face of an angel.