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The Wild West at the Opera


Italian imagery about North America in Puccini's time was linked to the Buffalo Bill Wils West Show, a traveling circus and western show, which the composer himself attended. Otherwise, information could be exchanged through relatives who were in the U.S. seeking their fortunes, with all the difficulties of communication that existed in the early twentieth century. Immediately after the success of Madama Butterfly, Puccini set out to find a new subject, a long search full of proposals, a. period of intense activity and personal difficulties. The turning point came in January 1907: Puccini was in New York and attended the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco, the same author of Butterfly, which had inspired the Lucca-born. At first the composer was not too convinced about turning the play into an opera, but the seed now planted bore fruit. The success of the previous opera perhaps also contributed to this process.

The plot

We are in California, at an unspecified time of gold hunting, in a village near a mine that has as its meeting place an inn called the Polka. The tavern is run by the only woman there, Minnie, with whom all the men are in love; she assumes in herself both the role of mother and the role of governess, so much so that as soon as she appears on stage she is intent on reading passages from the Bible. At the end of the reading the village sheriff, Rance, declares his love but ala women responds evasively and it is at that moment that a stranger, Dick Johnson, enters. The latter as a stranger is not allowed to enter but the innkeeper says she met him along a path, for the two of them it was love at first sight; the miners leave the scene as news has arrived of a sighting of the gang of the notorious bandit Ramerrez. In the second act, the two lovers are in Minnie's cabin when the miners and the sheriff arrive and inform the woman that Johnson is actually Ramirrez. Outraged Minnie chases her lover away but later, moved by love, welcomes him back since he has been wounded. At that moment the sheriff also enters the hut, who begins to search for the bandit who is betrayed by a few drops of blood. The innkeeper, in order to save the man, decides to challenge Rance to a poker game and by cheating manages to obtain salvation for both of them. In the last act Ramirrez healed is on the run but is captured by the miners who want to hang him, the man begs them to make Minnie believe he is still alive but the woman, warned by the waiter Nick, arrives on horseback and asks for the release of her love invoking the memories she shared with all the miners. The latter in emotion forgive Johnson/Ramerrez and the two lovers are now ready to live their lives together.


Puccini for the setting deferred to Belasco's own knowledge of the Wild West, which he drew on his father's stories. A far West full of opportunity and men of different ethnicities at the time. For example, Ramirrez speaks in Spanish but is not Mexican but a descendant of the Spanish conquerors of California, a Califomio. Puccini associates African American music with this character, which certainly does not reflect the background of the protagonist, but the composer was fascinated by these rhythms and perhaps for him they identified the real America. In fact, the Lucchese is not interested in an accurate reconstruction of the Wild West, the West is for klui an original and fascinating setting in which to set an opera, in fact it was the subject of criticism because of its unreliability, which was not the case with Butterfly since one was more familiar with the U.S. than with faraway Japan.


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