Bravo Cura

Celebrating José Cura--Singer, Conductor, Director




Operas:  Fanciulla

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Fanciulla in Hamburg









“Non so ben neppure io quel che sono”


Giacomo Puccini is a complex personality who is too often underestimated, even nowadays. Some Puccini’s detractors exhibit a sort of repression in dealing with sensuality; sensuality understood in its broad meaning of exacerbation of the senses. Think, for example, of Des Grieux’s tormented relationship with Manon, think of Pinkerton’s sick obsessions over a 15 years old Butterfly, think of the male-female confrontation in Turandot, so connected with the theories of modern psychiatry. As a illustration of Puccini’s elusive sensual personality, look at how he maniacally tries to explain what he wishes the performer to do, sometimes with indications that are so different that you wonder how they can be done at the same time: “fast but a little slow”, “with impetus yet controlled”, “in tempo but sostenendo”. The flow of Puccini’s music must be as the flow of a caress over a body: now slow, now fast, now taking time, now pressing, now insisting, now almost without touching. Nostalgic, harsh, romantic, aggressive, tender and melancholically comic, brutal and disgustingly cynic, Puccini remains one of the most erotic composers.

There can be a sort of prejudice when we hear Puccini’s great passages in La Fanciulla del West, so suspiciously “Broadway-like” in scope. We grin condescendingly when we recognize a tune that resembles something we have heard in a musical comedy or movie, forgetting Puccini wrote his music well before the modern entertainment industry did it, significantly influencing generations of composers after him.

La Fanciulla del West demonstrates Puccini’s complexity as well as his musical refinement. Always considered to be a fine connoisseur of the female soul, he proves with this opera how well he also knew the male psychology. Part of the magic of La Fanciulla del West is how Puccini underscores the longing for home with such authenticity. It is well known that people from his birth place, Lucca, left in great numbers for England, the Unites States, South America or Australia; Giacomo’s brother Michele’s ill-fated emigration ended in an untimely death in Argentina. As a result, Puccini is able to express the nostalgia for one’s roots and family ties with touching accuracy. The solitude that grips the throat, often finding solace in a bottle, a woman or a game of cards, is masterly rendered in La Fanciulla del West. Puccini’s “Wild West”, contrary to the Hollywood archetype, is not heroic, but is closer to the true nature of the borderland: men sweating blood to keep going, spurred on by a dream. In this sense, my connection with this opera is deep and personal. As an immigrant myself, having left my country, Argentina, 25 years ago in search of the European “promised land”, I understand perfectly that feeling of being “uprooted” that is so well described in La Fanciulla del West. I can still recall the devastating sense of “helplessness” felt for years until my family and I made Europe our new home.

I have always found in Johnson a very complex character. He knows life, he can lie if necessary, he is a thief and is well able to handle a cunning woman like Micheltorena, still, he is surprised at what is happening to him: this unexpected discovery of real love that reconfirms his feelings of being damned by his life as an out-law. Roughness, disdain of the rules, as well as regret and the hope for a better future, are all nuances of Johnson’s personality that come to the fore, not only during his arias but also in the short, realistic dialogues that underpins the opera. In fact the key to his psychology can be found in such sentences like “Non so ben neppure io quel che sono”… (I don’t even know myself what [who?] I am…). Can this question apply to Giacomo Puccini himself? Can we conclude that he imbues each of his male characters with a touch of his own insecurities, throwing them into the arms of much stronger women, to channel his own phantoms? Sigmund Freud smiles.

José Cura

11 03 2016







Fanciulla, with its six-shooters and saddles, cowboys and Indians, macho posturing, fist-fights and rough frontier justice, may appear to be constructed of “Old West” canvas but its heart is made of more delicate fabric.  Director Vincent Boussard’s uneven staging embraced that larger, sturdy canvas while allowing the finer material to unravel.

The large scale elements were in place in act I: the Polka was suitably rustic, the miners suitably scraggily, the atmosphere suitably evocative.  But the very long bar was placed forward and ran parallel to the audience, effectively blocking the view of many whenever the action took place behind it and the obligatory effort to shock—the introduction of the Marilyn Monroe minstrel-in-drag singing the nostalgic “Che faranno I vecchi miei”—fell flat.  Totally missing was the charm and whimsy inherent in the music and libretto:  Minnie’s entrance lacked drama (she wandered in), Dick Johnson’s entrance with his mini-saddle wasn’t impactful, and the sweet waltz in which the virginal Minnie submits to Johnson sadly took place off-stage. 

Act II fared little better.  Again we had the big canvas—Minnie’s single room hut was strangely tilted with no bed, no fireplace, no appliances but featured a floor-to-ceiling mirror and huge crystal chandelier—but little heart. The obligatory effort to shock was the sudden dropping of the curtain when Johnson gives Minnie her first ‘kiss’; when it rose the two were on the ground in each other’s arms with the chandelier now hovering just off the floor, obscuring half the stage. A few tossed bits of clothing would have been as effective and less visually disruptive. Unfortunately, Boussard writes Johnson out of the act after the bandit is shot: the wounded man doesn’t move for the rest of the act and no one takes notice of him.  Since Minnie and Rance gamble for the life of the bandit, having the bandit’s presence front and center re-enforces how high the stakes are;  however, in this production, neither Minnie nor Rance ever even look toward the bleeding (and presumably dying) man as the essential trio becomes a duo. The music churns and the emotions rise in response to the genius that is Puccini:  alas, there was no sense of urgency or emotional attachment coming from the stage. Even when Minnie finally wins, she laughs and throws cards around rather than rushing to her love. She seems more excited to have beaten the sheriff than rescuing Dick Johnson.

Without the effective psychological underpinnings that come from Act II, Act III becomes all canvas. Johnson is brutalized and Minnie saunters on stage, showing little desperation or drive.  She waves her guns around, Rance acts menacingly until he runs away, Johnson remains stoic, the miners have a change in heart.  One of the most delightful, romantic, uplifting operas in the canon ends with a whimper. The fabric that was the heart seemed shredded.

Whether due to direction or personal choice, Minnie (Amarilli Nizza) came across as self-reverential and unsympathetic; her voice tended to be shrill. Rance (Claudio Sgura) was dour and one-dimensional, somewhat hammy, though he sang well.  Johnson was well served by the ever charming José Cura who brought his usual charisma to a role that suits him like a favorite pair of jeans.  He sang beautifully, added lovely little touches that brought depth to his character and seemed to have the time of his life, but he had to struggle mightily to bring life to the stage against a series of directorial challenges.   

The orchestra under the direction of Josep Caballé-Domenech was disappointing:  sour notes, off-beat, too loud, out of sync—they seemed closer to an amateur ensemble than an established, working orchestra.  Excuses were given, explanations were made but the bottom line was that they too often sounded like they were doing a first read-through of the music.  That they consistently overplayed the singers and seemed incapable of any nuance reflected control issues by the conductor.  The artists on stage, the audience and Puccini deserved better.

































































Curtain Call Photos























































[...]"This (the series of 5 "Fanciulla" performances) was lead by a phenomenally disposed José Cura as Dick Johnson with a brilliantly flourishing tenor as well as a stylistically perfect performance full of refinement, who was the most famous guest during Georges Delnon's first season of directorship and indeed brought for once international top level to Hamburg together with Amarilli Nizza as intense eponymous heroine. [...]"

Source: Das Opernglas, issue 7/8 (2016), p. 86

Thanks to Romana for providing!

































































Photos From the Internet























Last Updated:  Sunday, July 10, 2016  © Copyright: Kira