Puccini’s opera, La Fanciulla del West, based on David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West, is being revived as part of the current season at the Metropolitan. There was an informative article about the opera in the New York Times this past Sunday (click on the excerpt below to go to the full article).
In 1907, during his first trip to New York, Puccini saw “The Girl of the Golden West,” a play by David Belasco, the American playwright, director, producer and designer; Puccini had based an opera on Belasco’s earlier drama “Madame Butterfly.” Puccini’s paralyzing three-year search for a suitable operatic subject was over. Madama Butterfly” had already tapped the natural synergy between Puccini and Belasco, both crowd-pleasing populists who focused more on a sturdy dramatic arc, filled out with realistic detail, than on literary distinction. The setting of “The Girl of the Golden West” fueled Puccini’s ever-deepening absorption with ambience. For him an opera’s setting was not merely background but the defining element of its musical and dramatic nature.
Belasco came by his Western location honestly. His parents, British Jews of Portuguese extraction, were among the original forty-niners who flooded northern California after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. On a visit to a Nevada mining camp the young Belasco heard the unforgettable singing of the minstrel Jake Wallace, on whose lips Puccini would place the plangent ballad that sets and sustains the pervasive air of nostalgia in “La Fanciulla del West.” And Belasco’s father was part of a posse that captured a wounded outlaw whose hiding place in a loft was betrayed by blood dripping into the room below. This slice of life would become one of the most gripping scenes in Puccini’s pioneering spaghetti western.