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FWO Archives: Puccini's 'The Girl of the Golden West' (1951) at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium

Based upon a hit 1905 play, The Girl of the Golden West, by the American author, director, impresario, and playwright, David Belasco, Giacomo Puccini's 1910 masterpiece, set in California during the Gold Rush era, was paired with the western ballet, Shindig, during the company's 5th season as the Fort Worth Civic Opera Association Inc.

Michael Bartlett, Barbara Stevenson, Karl Kritz, and Robert Weede.

A Western Opera & a "Texas-Ballet"

Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on December 10, 1910, with Arturo Toscanini in the pit and Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn as the opera's star-crossed lovers. Following La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, one would have thought that the larger-than-life dramatic allegories and high-stakes conflicts of the Wild West would have proven to yield yet another hit on Puccini's hands.

Unfortunately, Fanciulla has somehow eluded that popularity over time, even though its sumptuous score, with moments of Straussian dissonance and lush, Debussyian harmonic colors, is impressive. It could be the over-the-top melodramatics of the plot, the difficulty of casting a sizeable men's chorus, or the noticeable absence of one show-stopping aria after another. Still, there is no denying that 111 years later, "Ch'ella mi credo," the stunning Act III aria, is still a crown jewel of the operatic tenor repertoire.

Fort Worth Opera's 1950-1951 season featured Rosalinda, an Americanized version of Strauss' Die Fledermaus, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, and a double bill of Puccini's Fanciulla in English, paired with composer Don Gillis' 1949 western ballet, Shindig, staged by David Preston, head of the TCU ballet department. The Girl of the Golden West starred Barbara Stevenson as Minnie, Michael Bartlett as Dick Johnson (a.k.a. the bandit Ramerrez), and Robert Weede as Sheriff Jack Rance, under the baton of FWO's first general director Karl Kritz, and stage director Hamilton Benz.

Highlighting Fort Worth's "western" sensibilities proved to be successful at the time but wasn't revisited in years to come. Nevertheless, the financial and critical triumph of this calculatedly festive season was indicative of a dynamic young opera company that would become a quiet force to be reckoned with in North Texas over the next 71 years.

'The Girl of Golden West' Synopsis

Page Twelve, Section Two, Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Sunday, April 1, 1951

Miners gather together at 'The Polka' saloon, nestled within a mining camp at the foot of California's Cloudy Mountains. A rowdy row erupts between the men and Sid, who is found cheating in a game of cards, but the violence is quickly averted by bar owner Minnie and Sheriff Jack Rance, who calms the crowd and pins two cards on Sid's jacket lapel, like a scarlet letter "C" for town "cheater." The Sheriff is notified by Ashby, a Wells Fargo agent, that he is hunting down a bandit named Ramerrez.

Rance professes his love for Minnie, and she rebuffs his advances as a stranger appears, announcing himself as Johnson (a.k.a. Ramerrez). He walks in the front door and immediately begins to flirt with Minnie, who recognizes him from a chance meeting long ago. Rance, jealous at this stranger's interest in Minnie, suspects that Johnson is, in fact, the leader of the outlaws in disguise. Ashby returns with Castro, one of Ramerrez's captured posse, who announces that he has quit the gang and will lead the Sheriff to their hideout. The ruse is successful, and the men rush off with the Rance, leaving their gold with Minnie for safekeeping. Johnson stays behind but is so smitten with Minnie that he forgoes robbing the gold even when it is at his fingertips. Instead, the two agree to meet at her home later that evening.

Johnson joins Minnie in her cabin, and together they proclaim their love for one another. Shots are fired outside, and she hides him as Rance appears on the scene with the men to reveal Johnson's true identity. After they have left, she denounces him for deceiving her and sends him away. Another round of shots are heard, and he arrives back at her cabin door wounded by a bullet. She hides him in the loft as the Sheriff barges in, demanding she reveal his whereabouts, but a drop of blood betrays his presence, and Johnson is hauled off into the night.

Knowing that Rance is a gambling man, Minnie challenges him to a poker game and cleverly wins by cheating. She nurses Johnson back to health in a forest hideaway, but the minors capture him and string him up by a rope. Just as the noose is tightened, Minnie rides up to the scene on a horse and pleas for his release. She tells the crowd that Johnson has reformed his ways and that she is madly in love with him. Touched by her fervent appeal, they free him, and the two ride away into the sunset.

-- Ryan Scott Lathan, Director of Marketing & Communications

La Fanciulla del West

Music by Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini

Based on the play 'The Girl of the Golden West' by David Belasco

Sung in English


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