Music composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo
Zangarini after David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden
First Performance: 10 December 1910, Metropolitan Opera
House, New York.
|Jack Rance, sheriff||Baritone|
|Dick Johnson/Ramerrez, bandit||Tenor|
|Nick, bartender at the Polka saloon||Tenor|
|Ashby, Wells Fargo agent||Bass|
|Trin, a miner||Tenor|
|Sid, a miner||Baritone|
|Bello, a miner||Baritone|
|Harry, a miner||Tenor|
|Joe a miner||Tenor|
|Happy a miner||Baritone|
|Larkens, a miner||Bass|
|Billy Jackrabbit, a Red Indian||Bass|
|Wowkle, his squaw||Mezzo-Soprano|
|Jake Wallace, a travelling camp minstrel||Baritone|
|JosÈ Castro (mestizo), one of Ramerrez’s band||Bass|
|The Pony Express riders||Tenor|
Setting: A camp of miners at the foot of the Cloudy
Mountains during the California Gold Rush (1849-50).
The plot is concerned with rather melodramatic happenings during the days
of the California Gold Rush. While remaining true, in general, to his usual
melodious style, Puccini has adapted his score to a rapidly moving
conversational dialogue. He also shows that he was aware of the musical
progress of the times by his use of consecutive and unresolved seventh chords
somewhat in the manner of Ravel, and in the employment of Debussian augmented
triads. Moreover, for the sake of local color, he introduces melodies and
rhythms characteristic of the South and Southwest.
Ashby, agent of the Wells Fargo Company, enters the “Polka”
bar-room, and, joining the miners there assembled, says that he is close on
the track of Ramerrez, chief of the band of Mexican outlaws who have recently
committed a big robbery. The sheriff, Jack Rance, in talking with the men,
boasts of his own love affair with the “girl,” Minnie, and says
that he is going to marry her. One of the miners disputes his claim and a
brawl results. Minnie herself enters and stops it. Minnie runs the
“Polka,” for she is the orphaned child of the founder of this
establishment, and also acts as mother and guardian angel to the miners and
cowboys who frequent the place. When Rance proposes to her in his crude
fashion, she spurns him and holds him at bay with a revolver. A stranger
enters and gives his name as Dick Johnson of Sacramento. The sheriff is
suspicious concerning him, but Minnie takes his part, saying that she has met
him before. Johnson is in reality none other than the hunted Ramerrez —
he has come to rob the saloon. Unaware of this, Minnie recalls with Dick the
time they first met and fell in love with one another. The men all go in
search of Ramerrez, leaving with Minnie their gold. She declares that if
anyone is to steal the gold he must do so over her dead body. Johnson has
become more and more enamoured of her and relinquishes his plan of robbery;
now he admires her courage. She invites him to visit her in her cabin when
the miners shall have returned.
Johnson and Minnie meet at her “shack” and sing of their love.
Suddenly shots are heard outside in the darkness — the men are again
searching for Ramerrez. Not wanting to be found with her lover, she conceals
John¨son, then admits the men. They are hunting, they say, for Dick Johnson,
who is none other than Ramerrez. Minnie declines their offered protection and
they leave. Then she turns upon Johnson with the revelations that she has
just heard. Dick acknowledges their truth, but goes on to tell how he was
compelled by fate to become a bandit; since meet¨ing her he has resolved to
give up his old life, and had prayed, in vain, that she would never know of
his past. The tense dramatic atmosphere is reflected in somber chords in the
But Minnie cannot forgive him for having deceived her after confessing his
love. She sends him out into the night. A moment later shots are heard,
Minnie runs to the door, opens it and drags in Johnson, seriously wounded.
She hides him in a loft up under the roof. The sheriff soon enters, hot on
the trail. Minnie has almost overcome his suspicions when a drop of blood
falls from the loft, revealing the wounded man. Knowing that the sheriff is a
desperate gambler, Minnie, as a last resort, offers to play a game of poker
with him, the stakes to be her own hand and Johnson’s life, or else her
own and the prisoner’s freedom. Minnie cheats, wins the game and her
Johnson, nursed back to life by Minnie, is about to be hanged by
Ashby’s men. He asks one last request. Let her believe that he had
gained his freedom and gone away to live the nobler life she had taught him.
He touchingly apostrophizes her as the “star of his wasted life.”
This last request of Johnson’s is sung to the most famous melody in the
opera (“Ch’ella mi creda libero”).
Just as the lynchers are about to draw the rope taut, Minnie rushes in on
horseback. She at first holds the crowd at bay with her drawn revolver, then
appeals to them eloquently, reminding them of her faithful care for their
needs; they should not fail her now. The “boys” relent, and in
spite of Rance’s protests, release the prisoner. Johnson and Minnie bid
them farewell and go away together to begin life anew.
[Introduction and Synopsis adapted from The Victor Book of the
Opera (10th ed. 1929)]
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the complete libretto.
image_description=The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco
first_audio_name=Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924): La Fanciulla del West
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product_title=G. Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
product_by=Ashby: Vito Susca; Bello: Virgilio Carbonari; Billy Jackrabbit: Paolo Washington; Dick Johnson: Mario del Monaco; Happy: Agostino Ferrin; Harry: Valiano Natali; Jack Rance: Giangiacomo Guelfi; Jake Wallace: Giorgio Tozzi; Jim Larkens: Giorgio Giorgetti; Joe: Enzo Guagni; JosÈ Castro: Mario Frosini; Minnie: Eleanor Steber; Nick: Piero di Palma; Sid: Lido Pettini; Sonora: Enzo Viaro; Trin: Brenno Ristori; Un postiglione: Alberto Lotti-Canini; Wowkle: Laura Didier Gambardella. Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor.
Live performance, 15 June 1954, Florence.