Metropolitan Opera HD: ‘Girl of the Golden West’ |

Metropolitan Opera HD: ‘Girl of the Golden West’

Elmer W. Koneman
special to the daily

Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” will be the Metropolitan Opera High Definition broadcast at the Colorado Mountain College/Breckenridge auditorium on Saturday. Although the performance is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., those attending are invited to arrive a half hour early to preview the pre-opera program notes and performer interviews.

The performance is presented in high definition through a partnership between the college and the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge. This performance in particular should draw much local interest, as the story is set in a mid-19th-century gold mining camp.

Puccini based the opera on the stage play of the same name, written by David Belasco, a well-known playwright and actor of the day, gaining his inspiration for the early mining days by joining short run barnstorming acting companies performing in several mining camps in California. He once commented: “People from unknown places joined forces in this far Western land, where they struggled, laughed, gambled, cursed, killed, loved and worked out their strange destinies in a manner incredible to us of today.” It is within this setting that “Girl of the Golden West” is portrayed.

After a short musical prelude, the first act curtain opens in the ballroom of the saloon, “Polka,” where a group of rowdy miners, after a day of lonely toil, entertain each other with dancing, drinking and gambling amid laughter, intermixed with acts of cheating, loneliness and violence. Not long into the act, three main characters take center stage as the webbing of the story unfolds. The sheriff, Jack Rance (sung by baritone Lucio Gallo), reveals his love for Minnie (sung by soprano Deborah Voigt), the owner of the saloon and the camp’s schoolteacher, only to be rejected. Soon appears a handsome stranger, Dick Johnson (sung by Marcello Giordani), alias for Romerez, leader of a local band of local robbers, who captures the fancy of Minnie with whom mutual love is expressed in a duet, after which the two leave for an evening at Minnie’s cabin.

Of particular interest to our local audience will be the part of Ashby, a Wells Fargo agent leading a posse ready to capture Ramerez, to be performed by Kieth Miller, a Colorado native and a graduate of the University of Colorado football program where he starred in the Fiesta Bowl and the Cotton Bowl games in the mid 1990s.

Miller turned down an opportunity to become a football pro in deference to engaging in serious study at the Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. Upon graduation he earned annual individual roles in Metropolitan Opera productions, culminated by his most recent appearance as Ashby in the upcoming Met broadcast. Miller is also well known in local musical circles, where he performed as soloist and has served as a tutor in the Breckenridge Music Festival Winter Series and Music in the Schools programs.

The “Girl of the Golden West” story continues with Johnson’s second act visit in Minnie’s cabin, where he and Minnie are mutually engaged, only to be discovered by Sheriff Rance and members of the posse. In an attempt to leave the scene, Johnson is shot on his way out the door, but in falling back is reunited with Minnie, who hides him in the attack. However, on a follow-up search of the cabin by the posse, Rance feels a drop of blood from above and captures Johnson. In one of the more gripping scenes of the opera, Rance and Minnie are engaged in a card game to determine whose captive the now unconscious Johnson is to be. Through a clever bit of cheating, Minnie wins the game and is again reunited with Johnson.

The third act involves an unruly mob of miners to whom Ashby has just announced the recapture of Johnson, who is now brought before Sheriff Rance who leads a chorus of accusations in preparation for the hanging ceremony. Johnson makes one last appeal that the one who he loves, Minnie, be advised of his present situation. As the noose is put around his neck, Minnie suddenly appears on horseback, with hair flying in the wind and pistol between her teeth, scattering the men as she singly protects Johnson. Despite threats by the Sheriff and others in the mob, in a closing aria Minnie pleads for calm, reminding to the mob how she had mothered, taught and helped many of the miners. She also pleads she now is part of the act of reconciliation for Ramerez, who no longer should be considered a bandit. As Rance leaves in disgust, the miners open a path for Minnie and Ramerez to escape, who are last seen riding in the distance, with their trailing voices singing, “Good-bye, my California, good-bye.”

Although the music for this opera may seem a bit out of character for Puccini – with very few of the genre of bel canto arias included that are associated with late 19th century Italian operas – the libretto itself is more speech like, almost conversational with short phrases exchanged between a number of singers. Yet underneath those somewhat truncated lyrics, the music is continuously flowing, impressionistic and atmospheric.

In balance, Puccini’s programming of an enlarged orchestra, and the effective use of off-stage choruses and sounds to represent the actions of the posse and other activities, including the introduction of a wind machine simulating storms, make for a most effective opera experience for performers and audience alike.

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