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A CurtainUp Review
La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)

What a cursed land this golden west.
Dick Johnson (tenor Marcos Aguiar), who is really the bandit Ramerrez gives Minnie (soprano Irina Rindzuner) her first kiss.
Yes, this is an opera review, but La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), Puccini's version of a spaghetti western is based on a turn of the century hit play by David Belasco whose name still graces the marque of a Broadway theater where it's now home to a decidedly non-operatic musical entertainment, Passing Strange. Belasco's 1905 hit melodrama set in the Sierra Madra Mountains during the California Gold Rush not only appealed to Puccini but Sigmund Romberg whose music was used in a 1930s movie starring silver screen singing stars Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Belasco's play was fine fit for Puccini's penchant for the verismo style opera that was created around characters and situations drawn from every day life and he was said to consider this one of his major achievement. However, though its 1910 Metropolitan Opera premiere starred Enrico Caruso as Dick Johnson, a.k.a. a Mexican bandit named Ramirez, this California flavored Italian opera does not rival such Puccini super hits as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. Probably, that's because it doesn't have any of those works' instantly recognizable arias even though there's much, especially in the second and third acts, that strongly echo La Boheme's lovers and their gorgeous solos and duets.

Impresario Michael Capasso of Manhattan's jewel box opera company, the Dicapo Theater, has mined the gun-toting Puccini work for every smidgen of gold. His richest asset is the terrific young soprano Irina Rindzaner as Minnie. The opera's only female character is the beloved mistress of Polka, a miners' tavern and gambling house who falls in love with a bar patron who pretends to be Dick Johnson but is really a bandit the miners are gung ho to have dancing at the end of a rope. Rindzaner has the vocal chops to do justice to this demanding role and the charm to bring off the tough, quick on the draw but love hungry young woman.

Brazilian tenor Marcus Aguiar makes a fine romantic opposite for Minnie. Though he seemed to strain a bit during the first act, by the time things move into the opera's best acts, his voice warmed up and his persona became more vivid. Baritone Zeffin Quinn Holis is an ideal choice as love-struck villain, Sheriff Jack Rance. There's plenty of rousing singing to showcase the ensemble and the 26-piece orchestra's expert musicianship.

The Dicapo's production staff has done wonders in transforming the stage into a woods-y two tier set that doubles as the barroom complete with swinging doors and as Minnie's cabin. The English Dicapo titles are clear and crisp and make following the action easy even if you don't read the program's detailed plot synopsis.

This is the final production of the current Dicapo season, but there's always another season to experience opera á la Dicapo. The first offering of the 2008-09 season should be of special interest to theater goers: It's Robert Ward's opera version of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco. Production: Michael Capasso
Conductor: John Di Costanzo
Assistant Conductor: Samuel Bill
Set Design: John Farrell
Costume Design: Angela Huff
Lighting Design: Susan Roth Thursday, Apr. 10, 7:30 pm, Saturday, Apr. 12, 8:00 pm, Friday, Apr. 18, 8:00 pm, Sunday, Apr. 20, 4:00 pm

Minnie: Irina Rindzuner
Dick Johnson (Ramerrez): Marcos Aguiar
Jack Rance: Zeffin Quinn Hollis
Sonora: Chad Armstrong
Nick: Michael Boley
Trin: Paolo Buffagni
Sid: Vaughn Lindquist
Handsome: Andrew Cummings
Harry: Ubaldo Feliciano-Hernandez
Joe: Robert Hughes
Happy: Matthew Klauser
Larkens: Gary Ramsey
Jake Wallace: Brian Ballard
Ashby: Bryce Smith
Wowkle: Jessica Kimple
Billy Jackrabbit: Andrew Horton
Jose Castro: Cesar Rospigliosi
Un postiglione: Fred Steinke
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, includes 2 intermissions Di Capo Opera Theatre, 184 East 76th Street (212) 288-9438
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on April 10th

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