Review: 'The Girl of the Golden West' opera has its moments

On the stage at Fulton High School, from left, UT Opera MFA student Linda Brimer, graduate Jesse Stock and a Fulton High School student perform the Poker scene from Puccini's 'The Girl of the Golden West.'

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On the stage at Fulton High School, from left, UT Opera MFA student Linda Brimer, graduate Jesse Stock and a Fulton High School student perform the Poker scene from Puccini's "The Girl of the Golden West."

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Friday's performance of Puccini's "The Girl of the Golden West" had its dull moments, but glimmers of operatic gold shone through.

As the curtain rose, a bartender made his way around a playful Western saloon set, lighting the oil lamps that invited the audience into an evening long ago. This evocative setting was complemented by the superbly scruffy costumes of the dozen or so '49ers who soon poured into the barroom.

Unfortunately, the chorus struggled with audibility during the first act. But showing remarkable skill and concern for the audience, Brian Salesky's nimble conducting avoided overwhelming the singing on stage.

Following some mixed-quality stage fighting among the miners, both the story and the singing picked up with the entrance of Carter Scott as Minnie. Scott's big, versatile voice is well-suited to the role, which requires everything from girlish flirting to pistol-wielding ferocity. Her acting occasionally veered toward the contrived, but she also managed some subtle expressions that revealed artistic depth.

Scott's appearance also enlivened the character of the sheriff, Jack Rance, played by Scott Bearden. Bearden and Scott had a powerful vocal and dramatic chemistry, which made their scenes together the most memorable of the evening. Bearden was particularly strong as he accepted Scott's challenge to the poker game in Act II. He sang with a brutality that captured Rance's anger without ignoring his pain at Minnie's rejection.

Manrico Tedeschi put in a solid performance as the infamous bandit Ramerrez, alias Dick Johnson. While he struggled to lead on the oftentimes crowded stage, in his scenes alone with Scott, Tedeschi was persuasive as the scoundrel in search of redemption. And though it arrived late in the action, his aria in the shadow of the crude frontier gallows did not disappoint. His strong singing gave Maestro Salesky the opportunity to unleash the orchestra in a stirring musical climax.

Anthony Laciura's direction and Stephanie Boyd's stage management are both to be commended. While the actors were sometimes clumsy in their execution — a noose proved particularly difficult to remove — Laciura's production had a rich physicality that took full advantage of some truly excellent sets. Meanwhile, Boyd oversaw the enormously complicated stage with aplomb, juggling not only a large cast and delicate stage effects but also the highly anticipated live horses.

While far from perfect, this production is well worth seeing for devotees or first-time opera goers. The opera will be reprised at 2:30 p.m. today.

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