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La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco. Its highly-publicised premiere occurred in New York Citymarker in 1910.

In Puccini's musical canon, Fanciulla followed Madama Butterfly, which was also based on a Belasco play. The opera has fewer of the show stopping highlights that are characteristic of other Puccini works, but is admired for its impressive orchestration and for a score that is more melodically integrated than is typical of his previous work. (Fanciulla shows the influence of the work of Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss without being in any way imitative).

Performance history

La fanciulla del West was commissioned by, and first performed at, the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 10, 1910 with Met stars Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn for whom Puccini created the leading roles of Dick Johnson and Minnie. Also in the cast was Pasquale Amato, the Met's leading Italian baritone, as Jack Rance. The Met's music director Arturo Toscanini conducted.

This was the first world premiere of an opera at the Met, and it was initially well received in the United Statesmarker. However, it was never quite as popular in Europe except perhaps in Germany. There it enjoyed a triumphant premiere at the Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin (now known as the Deutsche Opermarker) in March 1913, under the musical direction of Ignatz Waghalter.

Other premieres took place in Londonmarker on 29 May 1911 at Covent Garden Theatre; in Romemarker on 12 June 1911 at the Teatro Costanzi; and in Melbournemarker on 11 June 1912 at Her Majesty's Theatre.

It is presented from time to time, but is not performed nearly as often as Puccini's other mature operas.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 10 December 1910
(Conductor: Arturo Toscanini)
Minnie soprano Emmy Destinn
Jack Rance, sheriff baritone Pasquale Amato
Dick Johnson alias Ramerrez, bandit tenor Enrico Caruso
Nick, bartender at the Polka saloon tenor Albert Reiss
Ashby, Wells Fargo agent bass Adamo Didur
Sonora, miner baritone Dinh Gilly
Trin, miner tenor Angelo Badà
Sid, miner baritone Giulio Rossi
Handsome, miner baritone Vincenzo Reschiglian
Harry, miner tenor Pietro Audisio
Joe, miner tenor Glenn Hall
Happy, miner baritone Antonio Pini-Corsi
Jim Larkens, miner bass Bernard Bégué
Billy Jackrabbit, a Red Indian bass Georges Bourgeois
Wowkle, his squaw mezzo-soprano Marie Mattfeld
Jake Wallace, a traveling camp minstrel baritone Andrés De Segurola
José Castro, a "greaser", from Ramirez' band bass Edoardo Missiano
The Pony Express rider tenor Lamberto Belleri
Men of the camp and boys of the ridge


Time:1849 to 1850.
Place: A mining camp in the high Sierra Madre Mountainsmarker in Californiamarker.

Act 1

Inside the Polka Saloon

At the saloon, Sheriff Rance is playing solitaire, while a barman is lighting the lamps. The group of miners enter the saloon, taking a break after a day working at the mine. Sid proposes that the miners play cards, while Nick suggests the men dance. However, Sonora refuses; he prefers to sit at the bar to be close to Minnie. One of the miners, Jim Larkens, is homesick and the miners collect enough money for his fare home. A group of miners are playing cards when Bello discovers that Sid is cheating. Sheriff Rance quiets the fight and pins the two spades to Sid's jacket. Then the miners chase him out of the saloon. A Wells Fargo agent, Ashby, enters and announces that he is chasing the bandit Ramirez and his gang of Mexicans; he shows Rance the warrant for the arrest of Ramirez.

Nick announces a round of drinks for Minnie. Sheriff Rance toasts Minnie as his future wife, which makes Sonora angry. He tells Rance that Minnie is only toying with him. The two men begin to fight. Rance draws his revolver but at that moment, shots blast out and Minnie stands next to the bar with a rifle in her hands. The Pony Express rider arrives and delivers a telegram from Nina Micheltorena, offering to reveal Ramirez's hideout.

The sheriff tells Minnie that he loves her and will give her $1,000 for a kiss. He also says he wants to marry her after giving up his wife. Minnie laughs at him (Rance, Minnie: Ti voglio bene, Minnie).

Rance tells Minnie that he has never loved anyone because he is a gambler; only gold fascinates him. But he is now offering Minnie a fortune if she kisses him (Rance, Minnie: Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito). But Minnie is waiting for a man she can love unconditionally although Rance suggests that the man is him (Rance, Minnie: Laggiù nel Soledad).

A stranger enters the saloon and asks for a whisky and water. He introduces himself as Dick Johnson from Sacramento. Minnie and Johnson sing about their first meeting, while Rance jealously watches them (Johnson, Rance, Minnie: Chi c’e per farmi I ricci?). Rance deliberately knocks over Johnson's saddle to provoke him, but Minnie defuses the situation. Johnson invites Minnie to dance with him and she accepts. Angrily, Rance watches them.

Ashby returns with the captured Ramirez gang member, Castro. Upon seeing his leader, Johnson, in the saloon, Castro agrees to lead Rance, Ashby and the miners in a search for Ramirez, and the group then follows him on a false trail and in what turns out to be a wild goose chase. But before Castro leaves, he whispers a plan to Johnson: somebody will whistle and Johnson must reply to confirm that the place is clear.

While Minnie is busy on the upper floor, Johnson looks around the saloon for the gold and finds it under the counter. Minnie returns and asks him if he can help her to keep watch. She is confident that the gold is safe in her care. Nick enters and warns that a Mexican has been seen around. A whistle is heard, but Johnson fails to reply. Minnie shows Johnson the keg of gold that she and the miners take turns to guard at night and Johnson reassures her that the gold will be safe there. Before he leaves the saloon, he promises to visit her at her cabin. They confess their love for each other (Minnie, Johnson, Nick: Mister Johnson, siete rimasto indietro). Minnie begins to cry, Johnson comforts her before he leaves.

Act 2

Minnie's log cabin, later that evening

Johnson enters Minnie's cabin and she tells him all about her life. She gives him a kiss and asks him to stay till morning. Then she asks Johnson if he came to the dance looking for Nina Micheltorena. He changes the subject. Overwhelmed with guilt over his secret identity, Johnson tries to leave, but is prevented from doing so by heavy snow outside. Suddenly, they hear three gun shots. Johnson says he loves Minnie and will stay with her forever, swearing that he has never known Nina Micheltorena (Minnie, Johnson: Ugh! Neve! — Va’! Riposati sul fieno).

They hear shouting outside: the bandit trails lead to Minnie's cabin, but before the sheriff and his men enter, Minnie hides Johnson knowing of Sheriff Rance's jealousy. She is shocked to learn that Johnson is Ramirez, Nina Micheltorena having revealed this to the Sheriff. At first, Minnie does not believe them until they show her Ramirez's photo given to them by Nina (Nick, Johnson, Minnie, Sonora, Ashby, Rance: Hello! — Chiamano).

After the men leave, she confronts Johnson saying that he came to the Polka saloon to steal the gold. Johnson tries to defend himself (Minnie, Johnson: Vieni fouri!). He swears that he would not want to steal anything from Minnie or from the miners and that he has fallen in love with Minnie ever since their first meeting; all he wants is to make a new start with Minnie but admits that he lied to her about Nina. Minnie asks him to leave her cabin (Johnson, Minnie: Lo so, lo so! Ma non vi avrei rubato!).

After leaving, Minnie hears a gunshot and she knows Johnson has been shot. She refrains from helping him, but when Johnson staggers in and collapses, Minnie helps him by hiding him in the loft. She tells him that she loves him and will save him (Minnie, Johnson: L’han ferito .. Che importa?).

Sheriff Rance enters Minnie's cabin looking for the bandit. He is about to give up searching for Johnson when he discovers a drop of blood on the floor. Rance pulls down the ladder and forces Johnson to climb down. Minnie tries to stop Rance, but Rance gives Johnson two options: be hanged or be shot. Minnie cries "Wait!" (Minnie, Rance: Che c’e di nuovo, Jack?).

Minnie desperately makes Rance an offer. If she beats him at poker, he must let Johnson go free. If he wins, she will be his. Hiding some cards in her stockings, Minnie cheats and she wins. Rance honors the deal and Minnie throws herself on the unconscious Johnson on the floor (Minnie, Rance: Una partita a poker!).

Act 3

Near the Californian forest at dawn, sometime later
Time has passed, and Johnson has recovered from his wounds. But he is still on the run from Ashby and the miners. Nick and Rance are discussing Johnson and wonder what Minnie sees in him when Ashby arrives in the town in triumph: Johnson has been captured. Rance is delighted to see this and he wants revenge; the miners all want Johnson to be hanged. (Chorus, Ashby, Rance, Nick, Miners: Ah! Ah! Hurray, ragazzi!). While Billy Jackrabbit prepares the rope to hang Johnson, Nick bribes him with some gold and tells him to delay the execution. He rushes off to find Minnie.

Ashby turns Johnson over to Rance and his hands are tied. The men want to hang Johnson as a thief and a murderer and, although he denies ever having killed anyone, he does admit to stealing although not from Minnie. The men do not believe him (Ashby, miners, chorus, Rance, Johnson: Scerriffo Rance! Consegno a voi quest’uomo). Johnson accepts the sentence and only asks the miners not to tell Minnie about his capture and his fate (Johnson, Rance, miners, chorus: Risparmiate lo scherno ).

Johnson wishes Minnie to be told that he has gone far away to a new life of redemption and never to return (Johnson, Rance, chorus: Ch'ella mì creda libero). The miners get ready to hang Johnson.

Minnie arrives just before the execution and throws herself in front of Johnson to protect him. As she prepares to shoot, the miners try to take her gun by force. Sonora calms the situation (Minnie, miners, chorus, Rance: Ah! Ah! — E Minnie).

While Rance tries to proceed, she convinces the miners that they owe her too much to kill the man she loves. She asks them to forgive him. One by one, the miners yield to her plea. Rance is not happy but finally he too gives in. Sonora unties Johnson and set him free (Minnie, Sonora, chorus, miners: Non vi fu mai chi disse ‘Basta!’).

The miners bid Minnie farewell. Minnie and Johnson leave California to start a new life together (Sonora, Johnson, Minnie, chorus, miners: Le tue parole sono di Dio).

Selected recordings

Year Cast
Dick Johnson,
Jack Rance)

Opera House and Orchestra
1951 Carla Gavazzi,
Giacinto Prandelli,
Saturno Meletti

Alfredo Simonetto,
Orchestra e Coro della Rai Milano
Audio CD: Warner Fonit
1958 Renata Tebaldi,
Mario Del Monaco,
Cornell MacNeil

Franco Capuana,
Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Decca
Cat: 421595
1958 Birgit Nilsson,
João Gibin,
Andrea Mongelli

Lovro von Matačić,
Teatro alla Scalamarker Orchestra and chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 81862
1963 Antonietta Stella,
Gastone Limarilli,
Anselmo Colzani

Oliviero de Fabritiis,
NHKmarker Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, Nikikai Chorus, Fujiwara Opera Chorus
DVD: Video Artists Int'l
Cat: 4439
1977 Carol Neblett,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherrill Milnes

Zubin Mehta,
Royal Opera Housemarker Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD:Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 419640
1982 Carol Neblett,
Plácido Domingo,
Silvano Carroli

Nello Santi,
Royal Opera Housemarker Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Kultur Video
Cat: 032031203891
1991 Eva Marton,
Dennis O'Neill,
Alain Fondary

Leonard Slatkin,
Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Chorus
Audio CD: RCA Red Seal
Cat: 60597
1991 Mara Zampieri,
Plácido Domingo,
Juan Pons

Lorin Maazel,
Teatro alla Scalamarker Orchestra and chorus
DVD: BBC / Opus Arte
Cat: OA LS3004 D
1992 Barbara Daniels,
Plácido Domingo,
Sherrill Milnes

Leonard Slatkin,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4023

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company

Other influences

The melody for Jake Wallace's song near the beginning of the first act is derived from two songs in a collection of Zuni melodies "recorded and harmonized" by ethnomusicologist Carlos Troyer, published in 1909. Puccini had obtained this publication in an effort to find authentic Native American music for Wowkle, but he ended up using it for Jake Wallace instead. (Several books about Puccini repeat Mosco Carner's claim that the song it based on Stephen Foster's "Old Dog Tray"; it is not.)

The climactic phrase in Johnson's aria, "Quello che tacete", near the end of the first act, bears a strong resemblance to a similar phrase in the Phantom's song, "Music of the Night", in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera. Some listeners have cited this as evidence that Webber copied from Puccini. Following the success of Phantom, the Puccini estate filed suit against Webber accusing him of plagiarism, but the suit was settled out of court and details were not released to the public.


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