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. First performance: Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1910.
After the success of his opera Madama Butterfly, Puccini returned to the source of its inspiration, David Belasco. Belasco, playwright for Madam Butterfly had also written The Girl of the Golden West, and Puccini selected that drama for his next opera.
It was first performed on 10 December 1910 in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House with Emmy Destinn as Minnie, Caruso as Dick Johnson and Pasquale Amato as Jack Rance; Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere.
This opera was the first world premiere for the Metropolitan Opera House, and was a huge success in the United States. Despite that, it was never as popular in Europe, except, perhaps, in Germany where it enjoyed a triumphant premier in March 1913 at the Deutsche Opernhaus in Berlin (now known as the Deutsche Oper), under the musical direction of Ignatz Waghalter. It has less of the "showstopping" highlights that are characteristic of other Puccini operas, but is admired for being far better integrated than his earlier work. It is still occasionally performed, but not as often as Puccini's other mature operas.
Many listeners of the opera also note that it bears some resemblance to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. An example of this is shown in Weber's aria for the Phantom, Music of the Night. A segment of it appears to be taken right from Johnson's exerpt Quello che tacete, which is located near the end of the first Act of The Girl of the Golden West. However, it has never been fully proved whether Lloyd Webber looked to The Girl of the Golden West for ideas.
Sheriff Rance quiets a brawl that has broken out in Minnie's Polka saloon. Ashby announces that he is chasing the bandit Ramerrez and his gang. When Rance is told that Minnie is only toying with him, another fight follows. A plan is formed to capture Ramerrez, after reading a letter from Ramerrez's old girlfriend. Minnie rebuffs Rance's attentions. The stranger Dick Johnson enters who knows Minnie. When the miners demand to know his plans, she intervenes. Rance becomes angry when he sees Minnie and Johnson dancing. Ashby returns with the gang member Castro, and after they threaten to kill him, he promises to betray Ramerrez, who is actually Johnson. The miners follow Castro on a wild goose chase. Johnson stays behind to protect Minnie. They confess their love for each other.
Minnie tells Johnson about her life, and they kiss. Overwhelmed with guilt over his secret identity, Johnson tries to leave, but is stopped by snow. He swears his love to Minnie. Before the sheriff and his men enter, Minnie hides Johnson. She is shocked to learn that Johnson is Ramerrez. After the men leave, she confronts Ramerrez. He confesses, asks for forgiveness, and reforms. After leaving he is shot, but Minnie takes him back to care for him in secret. Sheriff Rance is about to give up searching for Ramerrez, when he discovers a drop of blood. Minnie desperately makes Rance an offer. If she beats him at poker, he must let Ramerrez go free. If he wins, she will be his. Minnie wins by cheating, and Rance honors the deal.
Rance is furious that Minnie loves Ramerrez. Ashby captures Ramerrez and turns him over to the sheriff. The men want to hang Ramerrez as a thief and a murderer. He denies killing anyone, but admits to stealing. He accepts the sentence, and only asks that Minnie be told that he escaped. Minnie gallops in before the hanging, and while Rance tries to proceed, she convinces the miners that they owe Minnie too much to kill the man she loves. Minnie and Ramerrez leave to start a new life together.
Hamilton, David, ed. (1987). The Metropolitan Opera Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-61732.