The Girl of the Golden West, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2014

The ENO deserve to score a big hit with this new Richard Jones production of Fanciulla. Three acts, each with its own gloriously simple set by Miriam Buether, along with costumes by Nicky Gillibrand, evoked the quintessential clarity of the American far west.

Act I, all images ENO/ Robert Workman

Act I, all images ENO/ Robert Workman

Jones drew superb acting from the large cast, and Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson drew out the subtleties of Puccini’s music as it weaves around the action and the characters. At the start, with House lights suddenly brightening, the overture began with a huge bang, transporting us immediately to the saloon presided over by bartender Nick, brilliantly sung and acted by the inimitable Graham Clark.

As Minnie herself, the fanciulla of the piece, Susan Bullock’s attractively robust portrayal grounded the opera in her own simple morality, and having sung Brünnhilde in recent years at Covent Garden her vocal power was never in question. Peter Auty’s lyricism as her adored Dick Johnson (aka the bandit Ramerrez) shone through in their duets, and his superb characterisation of the role was a vital driving force in this wonderful first night performance.

Dick Johnson and Minnie

Dick Johnson and Minnie

American bass-baritone Craig Colclough gave a suitably dramatic portrayal of Sheriff Jack Rance, Nicholas Masters showed huge stage presence and a strong vocal line as Ashby the Wells Fargo man, and Clare Presland made a vocally and visually attractive native American, Wowkle. A fiercely dramatic performance too from Leigh Melrose as Sonora, who adores Minnie without the narcissistic underpinnings of the Sheriff’s destructive passion. The large cast of soloists produced other fine vignettes, and the chorus fully entered into the spirit of the action, not only musically but in their movement and portrayal of emotion. When chasing after Ramerrez in Act III each man — or at least most of them — peeped round the corner of the building before running on. Such attention to detail, along with a gripping orchestral performance made this as compelling a Fanciulla as anyone could wish for.

Minnie in Act III come to save Johnson's life

Minnie in Act III come to save Johnson’s life

After the costume fracas in Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne this last summer, Richard Jones is forgiven. This new notch to the English National Opera’s bow should provide the Arts Council with pause before cutting so much of their funding. But that is politics. This however is opera of such wonderfully high standard that it must be seen and heard.

Performances continue on various dates until November 1 — for details click here.

Leave a Comment