Puccini’s opera “The Girl of the Golden West” is a real Western—the “True Grit” of its day—packed with the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the American frontier.
The show is set in the Sierra Mountains of California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and has a golden voice at its center. American soprano Deborah Voigt, fresh from the Metropolitan Opera’s production celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opera’s world premiere there, is the chaste, good-hearted saloon keeper, Minnie, who treats the homesick miners as brothers, but falls madly in love with a bandit.
Voigt is a powerful singer, who has triumphed in Wagnerian roles, but she’s equally at home in buckskin. In this atmospheric production, with the mountains looming behind Minnie’s little bar, she has ample room to shine as an actress and navigate the composer’s unusually modern music with her knock-’em-dead voice.
Marcello Giordani, a handsome Italian tenor, plays the outlaw Dick Johnson, masquerading as a “slicker from Sacramento.” To complicate things, Jack Rance, the local sheriff, is in love with Minnie, though his passion is unrequited. That role is sung by Italian baritone Marco Vratogna in his Lyric Opera debut. Both men have fine voices and hold their own with the blonde superstar.
The chorus, directed by Donald Nally, is a Lyric treasure, and in this opera the all-male ensemble sings with depth and subtlety. Their blend is perfection, their dynamics remarkable, and accompanied by the excellent Lyric Orchestra, under the baton of the company’s music director Sir Andrew Davis, they provide a stellar sonic texture to the performance.
Stage director Vincent Liotta has concocted a wonderful surprise at the finale, adding laughter to accompany the happy ending. This beautiful production is sung in Italian with English supertitles.
“The Girl of the Golden West” runs through Feb. 21 at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Dr. For information, call Lyric at 312-332-2244 or visit lyricopera.com.