Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Met Encore season ends in Wild West

Published:Friday | September 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Contributed Debbie Voigt (right) and Marcello Giordani in 'La Fanciulla del West'.

The Met Live in HD's Summer Encore series presents Puccini's colourful La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) this Sunday, September 28, at 11:30 a.m., showing at the Palace Cineplex and Palace Multiplex. The opera closes this year's Summer Encore series.

La Fanciulla del West tells the story of Minnie, a feisty lass who owns a bar in a California mining camp. She is handy with a revolver, teaches Bible studies to rough gold miners, and claims to have never been kissed.

The opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini is set to an Italian libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini. It is based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by the American author David Belasco.

The opera is admired for its impressive orchestration and a score deemed more melodically integrated than Puccini's previous works. The composer considered it one of his greatest works and the opera had a successful and highly publicised premiere at the Met in 1910.

The Met's captivating encore stars Deborah (Debbie) Voigt as Minnie, Marcello Giordani as her love interest Dick Johnson, and Lucio Gallo as sheriff Jack Rance, who wants Minnie as his own. Complete with gun-toting, whisky-drinking cowboys, poker and a snowstorm, La Fanciulla del West is Puccini at his most colourful.

Soprano Debbie Voight was candid speaking about her experience as the 'Golden Girl of the West' to Matt Dobkin.

Minnie owns a bar, she plays poker, she packs a gun. Is this role a blast for you?

She is a lot of fun to play. I'm lucky that a lot of the characters I play are fun, but Minnie is a chick of a different feather. I also have to handle more props than with any other role I sing. She works at a bar, so there are the glasses and she hands out cigars. And she's got Bible lessons to teach and she has guns to tote. I found it very prop-complicated when I did it for the first time (at San Francisco Opera).

You're so well known to Met audiences as a Strauss and Wagner singer. What kind of vocal adjustments do you have to make to sing Puccini?

I know that people assume that because the repertoire is so different there must be huge vocal shifts. But I don't really feel that way. I am a singer who sings by sensation and, if it feels good in Strauss or Wagner, it's going to feel good in Puccini.

Do you think there's a perception that "Debbie Voigt sings Isolde, so Minnie must be a breeze for her"?

She's not a breeze by any means! Minnie is very chatty and there are enormous vocal leaps between intervals. She has a couple of really perilous high Cs that come out of nowhere. And she does a lot of reflecting, both about her childhood and about what she wants out of life. And she gets a bit melancholic about love, which requires a certain change in colour or timbre.

The term 'voice-wrecker' comes up a lot when people talk about Minnie! But I think that may be because a lot of the women who eventually sing the role come from a more lyrical Italian repertoire. And so, for them, it's a hugely dramatic step. But, as you say, when you sing Isolde and when you're preparing Brunnhilde and you sing Salome and roles like that, Minnie becomes a little bit more lyric.

I didn't find her to be as big a voice-wrecker as I kept hearing she could be, and I think that's because my repertoire goes beyond that.

This is the centennial run of performances and the second performance is on the actual 100th anniversary. Does that add an extra layer of excitement or pressure for you?

I'm just feeling really excited that I get to sing it that night. It's an American story, an American house, so I'm definitely feeling like, "well, I am the girl for the job!"