- La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), opera
This recording of a live performance at La Scala dates from 1956 and it shows its age badly. The sound quality is scratchy and every footstep on-stage, every page turn in the orchestra, and every audience cough shows up. The quality of the recording fluctuates erratically, occasionally improving for a while, but in order to appreciate the fine performances, it's necessary to tune out the aural dross to focus on the music. Antonino Votto leads the orchestra and chorus in a muscular reading of Puccini's dramatic score, which very clearly served as one of the inspirations for Ennio Morricone's music for Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. The opera's relative obscurity is difficult to understand; it has all the grandeur and tenderness of Puccini's best scores, and more complex and appealing characters than some of his better-known works. The plot resembles that of "Tosca," with similar dynamics in its love triangle, but here, the heroine is successful in rescuing the hero and no one dies. The three leads are entirely convincing. Soprano Gigliola Frazzoni is little known, but she has enormous vocal power and focus, and her portrayal of Minnie is believable and deeply moving. Franco Corelli was at the height of his powers when the recording was made, and his ringing tenor has just the right weight for Dick Johnson. Baritone Tito Gobbi exudes malice in the Scarpia-like role of Jack Rance. The supporting roles are all vividly characterized and sung with conviction. This is a vocally satisfying and dramatically compelling performance that should be of interest to fans of powerfully sung verismo opera who are willing to persevere through the unfortunate sound quality.