Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Going West

It’s been fun this week to reacquaint myself with an opera that I performed 28 years ago with the Spoleto Festival. Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) opened my eyes to opera in a permanent way in the summer of 1985.

What we are talking about here, people, is the world’s first “spaghetti western.” Puccini’s score has “movie music” written all over it, but if you are envisioning an Aaron Copland-style score or something like Roy Harris’ “Great American Symphony,” you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Fanciulla predates all of that by at least 20 years. (The News-Sentinel’s write-up of the opera states that it was written in 1938; the actual publishing date and Metropolitan Opera debut year is 1910). Full of whole-tone harmonies, parallel intervals (shame on him!) and tantalizing dissonance, Fanciulla is the product of a composer who is well aware of the music of Debussy and early Schoenberg. KOC director Brian Saleski called it “the greatest opera that Ravel never wrote.” There are several other composers I can think of who might have fit into that sentence- yet they all had their heydays after 1910.

I know what you’re thinking, “music that breaks new ground hurts my ears!” But we’re not talking Charles Ives or Anton Webern here. It is unmistakably the Puccini that you’ve come to know and love. Close your eyes in parts of Act II and you will swear you are listening to Madame Butterfly (another Puccini opera with ties to the USA, the opera immediately preceding Fanciulla). Attendees would do well to also hear Manuel de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat Suite #2 that we will be performing in March under guest conductor Kelly Corcoran. The harmonic devices and tempo changes in the Falla are startlingly similar. Janacek’s Sinfonietta, Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony and Gershwin’s music for piano and orchestra all owe a tip of the hat to this Puccini product. I swear there is even a part that reminds me of Touch Me by the Doors.

The shows will be at the Tennessee Theatre this Friday at 8, and Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Watching handsome guys in cowboy outfits (some of them on horseback), singing handsome music is a fine way to spend a February Sunday afternoon.

This photo shows the 1910 debuting cast, including Enrico Caruso (with noose around his neck) and Emmy Destinn as Minnie.

No comments: