La fanciulla del West Synopsis

The Story of Puccini's 3 Act Opera

56th Puccini Festival Opening Night: La Fanciulla Del West
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Giacomo Puccini's 3 act opera, La fanciulla del West premiered on December 10, 1910, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The ​opera is based on David Belasco's play "The Girl of the Golden West."  

La fanciulla del West,  Act 1

In 1850s California at the base of the Cloudy Mountains, gold miners make their way into the Polka Saloon after a hard day’s work.  As they drink and sing, traveling minstrel, Jake Wallace enters the saloon and entertains the miners with a song of his own.  After he finishes, Jim Larkens, a wary miner, tells his friends that he is homesick.  The other mines take it upon themselves to collect money in order to pay for his fare home.  At a nearby table another group of miners play cards, but when one of the men discovers that one of the players is cheating a fight breaks out.  Thankfully, Sheriff Rance calms the angry men and stops the fight.  He takes two of the cards and pins them to cheater’s shirt so that everyone knows not to play with him.

Ashby bursts into the saloon in chase of Ramerrez, a bandit who has stolen money from the bank with his fellow Mexican gang.  Meanwhile, Sheriff Rance toasts the owner of the saloon, Minnie, and declares her to be his future wife.  This catches Sonora off guard.  Sonora is also in love with Minnie, and in his jealous state, he picks a fight with Sheriff Rance.  Sheriff Rance draws his pistol and aims for Sonora, but before he can fire a shot, Minnie fires a shot of her own as she stands next to the bar with her rifle.  Now that she has everyone's attention, she takes out her bible and reads aloud a few passages in order to teach them a lesson.

A rider from the Pony Express drops by the saloon to deliver a telegram from Nina Micheltorena.  In it are the whereabouts of Ramerrez and his gang.  Sheriff Rance approaches Minnie and tells her that he loves her.  Minnie has her own idea of her ideal man and turns the sheriff away.  When a stranger walks into the bar and asks for a whiskey and water, Minnie recognizes him from the past.  He introduces himself as Dick Johnson and asks Minnie to dance with him, to which she happily accepts.  Sheriff Rance watches them as he grows with anger and jealousy.  

Ashby comes back to the saloon with one of Ramerrez’ gang members by the name of Castro.  Castro spots his leader, Dick Johnson, dancing with Minnie.  He offers to help Sheriff Rance capture Ramerrez and leads the sheriff, Ashby, and a group of miners on a farcical manhunt.  Prior to leaving the saloon, he whispers to Johnson that one of the gang members will whistle outside the saloon.  When Johnson hears it, he is to whistle in return to signal that the place is clear.  

After the group of men leaves, a whistle is heard outside, but Johnson isn’t paying attention and doesn’t reply.  Minnie shows him the large keg of gold that she and the miners take turns guarding at night.  Johnson puts her doubts at ease by telling her that the keg is absolutely safe in her saloon.  When Johnson tells her he is leaving, she begins to cry.  He consoles her and promises her that he’ll visit her at her cabin.

La fanciulla del West,  Act 2

Later that evening after the saloon closed its doors for the day, Minnie comes home to her cabin where her servant Wowkle, Wowkle’s lover, and their baby, await.  Expecting Johnson’s visit, she rushes to her bedroom to change her attire.  When he arrives at her cabin, he sits with her and listens intently as she tells him about her life.  As the two lovers draw closer and closer, they share a kiss as it begins snowing.  She asks him to stay with her overnight.  Johnson appears conflicted (he’s unsure how to tell her his true identity) but accepts her invitation.  Moments later, a few gunshots are heard outside and Johnson quickly hides.  Sheriff Rance and a group of his men run into Minnie’s cabin warning her about Johnson.  They have learned Johnson’s true identity - he is the infamous bandit Ramerrez.  With Johnson hiding in the closet, she tells the sheriff and his men that she knows nothing about it.  After they leave, Johnson emerges and Minnie furiously questions him.  He confesses his past sins to her but assures her that after he met her he decided to give up his former bandit life.  Minnie is still deeply upset and kicks him out of her home.  Within minutes more gunshots are heard.  Minnie’s heart sinks.  Johnson limps back into her cabin with his hand covering the wound.  Minnie quickly hides him just before Sheriff Rance barges in.  When he gives up searching, a small drop of blood falls onto his hand.  He looks up to see Johnson hiding in the loft.  Minnie immediately begs for a deal.  She asks the sheriff to play a game of poker.  If she wins, he’ll leave and drop all the charges against Johnson.  If she loses, she’ll agree to marry him.  Rance accepts her offer, unknowing that Minnie has a few favorable cards secretly stored in her stocking.  Minnie cheats her way to victory and Sheriff Rance upholds their deal.  Minnie rushes upstairs to the loft and finds Johnson laying on the floor unconscious.  

La fanciulla del West,  Act 3

Having been nursed back to health by Minnie, Johnson finds himself running from Sheriff Rance and his men once again.  This time, he is captured by Ashby in a nearby forest.  The sheriff and his men discuss what Johnson’s punishment should be, and it is unanimously decided that he must be hanged.  Johnson asks them not to tell Minnie so that she can believe he is out living a life of freedom.  The sheriff is angered by Johnson’s last request, but the other men and miners give it some thought.  Right before they kick the box out from under his feet, Minnie comes riding in on a horse with a pistol in her hand.  She jumps off and quickly runs up to Johnson’s side, demanding his life be spared.  She begs and pleads, but when that gets her nowhere, she tells them they all owe her money.  Each of the men there, including the sheriff, have a bar tab.  One by one the miners and men give in to her request and Johnson is finally untied.  Together, they get on the horse and ride into the sunset to start a new life together.

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