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Puccini: La Fanciulla del West [De Nederlandse Opera] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit, DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: BBC/Opus Arte
  • Blu-ray Release Date: November 16, 2010
  • List Price: $45.98

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Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:3.5/5]

Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West or “Girl of the Golden West” premiered 100 years ago at New York’s Metropolitan Opera with musical heavyweights Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini!  Since then, it has lived in the shadows of more popular Puccini works like La Boheme and Madama Butterfly. This is unfortunate as Fanciulla contains a load of great music and dramatic situations.  The opera, set in the California Gold Rush of the 1850’s, combines the usual ingredients of love triangles, concealed identity and threat of death.  Minnie (Eva-Maria Westbroek) is the proprietress of the Polka bar, the hangout of law-abiding miners and not-so-law-abiding thieves. Dick Johnson AKA the outlaw Ramerrez (Zoran Todorovich) shows up  and proceeds to woo Minnie away from corrupt sheriff, Jack Rance (Lucio Gallo).  Fanciulla’s dramatic high point is a poker game between Minnie and Rance for Johnson’s life. In the finale, she saves Johnson from a lynching party and they go off together, presumably happy ever after.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

Nicholas Lehnhoff’s production moves the Old West to a contemporary urban setting which leads to some visual incongruities.  The first and third acts are extremely dark but contain some excellent close ups and stage panoramas. The opening montages of the stock market and closing overlay of greenbacks on Minnie and Dick Johnson may symbolize “the root of all evil” but make little dramatic sense.  The male cast is outfitted in heavy leather and the Polka saloon looks like either a biker or gay bar.  Minnie’s Act II set is a very bright hot pink mobile home,  nothing like the humble log cabin of a virginal heroine.  The final act is set in an auto junkyard. Its finale is completely at odds with the opera’s original  version that has Minnie shooting the rope intended to hang Dick Johnson.  The unintentionally humorous ending features Minnie as a glammed-up Ginger Rogers and  Dick Johnson as a tuxedoed Fred Astaire descending a Hollywood staircase with MGM’s Leo the Lion roaring on the screen. The overall video quality, in spite of  these significant reservations about the sets and staging,  is excellent.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio conveys excellent balance between voices and orchestra, commendable given the Wagnerian proportions of this score. Maestro Carlo Rizzi leads his forces with near-perfect pacing, essential to maintaining the plot’s dramatic  tensions. But opera is about singing and this is where the results are mixed.  Eva-Maria Westbroek is intense and dramatically compelling. She  succeeds perfectly until her voice is pushed into its upper register where it sounds stressed.  The same can be said for co-star Zoran Todorovich who is an otherwise virile and convincing leading man.  The vocal star of this production is baritone Lucio Gallo, whose Italianate style and snarling baritone are outstanding. The supporting cast of miners, a critical element to the success of this opera, is quite strong with kudos to the tattooed bartender, Nick (Roman Sadnik).

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2.5/5]

The supplemental material includes photos and interviews with the principals.  The backstage interviews are fun but mostly fluff and add little to the understanding of this unusual production.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

This is the first Blu-ray of an unjustly neglected Puccini opera. There are several DVDs, the most successful being those featuring Placido Domingo who apparently found this role quite ingratiating. The Metropolitan Opera DVD comes closer to what we  expect from a more traditional production but has the visual limitations of standard resolution.  The eccentric staging of this BD can be distracting, and, at times vexing, particularly in its re-scripted finale.  On the good side, the overall performance values are very high and gave me the visceral music drama experience that I want opera to give me all the time.

Additional Screen Captures:

[amazon-product]B0041UG67Q[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
La Fanciulla del West (De Nederlandse Opera) -

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

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