La Fanciulla del West

July 29, 2015

In the Californian goldfields of the 1840s, Minnie, the golden-hearted barmaid, fends off the attentions of the sheriff in one of Puccini’s most accessible (and copied) scores. The one thing Minnie doesn’t have is someone to love … until a dark, handsome stranger walks into town. But is he all he seems? The original Spaghetti Western.

Act 1
A mining camp during the California gold rush of 1849–50. The miners are drinking and playing cards at the Polka Bar when news comes via the Wells Fargo agent Ashby that a bandit named Ramerrez is operating in the area. He has a $5000 reward on his head. A quarrel breaks out between Sheriff Jack Rance and Sonora, one of the miners, over Minnie, the owner of the bar. It is only the arrival of Minnie herself that averts bloodshed. Minnie calms everyone down and leads a bible class.

Rance declares his love for Minnie, but she knows he’s married and rebuffs him. A stranger named Dick Johnson arrives; Minnie vaguely recognises him. They dance. Johnson – really Ramerrez – foregoes an opportunity afforded him to rob the bar: he and Minnie are falling in love.

Act 2
Later that evening, Minnie and Johnson are having dinner in Minnie’s cabin. A sudden snowfall forces Johnson to stay. As he goes to the bedroom, Rance bursts in, claiming Johnson is Ramerrez. Minnie gets Rance out of the cabin then confronts Johnson. He admits the truth and she orders him to leave. A shot rings out, and Johnson returns, injured. Minnie hides him in the loft. Rance comes looking for him. Johnson’s presence is betrayed by blood from his wounds dripping through the ceiling. Desperate, Minnie invites Rance to play poker: if he wins, he gets her and Johnson; if she wins, she and Johnson go free. Minnie cheats her way to victory and Rance upholds their deal. Minnie rushes upstairs to the loft and finds Johnson laying on the floor unconscious.

Act 3
Having been nursed back to health by Minnie, Johnson finds himself running from 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. Just before they kick the box out from under his feet, Minnie comes in with a pistol in her hand and quickly runs up to Johnson’s side, demanding his life be spared. For years she has shared their troubles and dangers: how can they now deny her the only thing she has ever asked of them? One by one the miners relent and Minnie and Johnson ride into the sunset to start a new life together.