La fanciulla del west, Holland Park Opera, review


Updating things by a century, director Stephen Barlow has bust a gut to put a new spin on Puccini’s gold-rush opera.

Holland Park’s air-strip of a stage represents the Nevada desert where GIs first watch an atomic explosion, then retreat into a gambling hall; the denouement sees Minnie and Johnson sail away on a TWA airbus.

But Barlow can’t do away the snow which pervades the intense heart of the action, so we still get a log cabin which allows Johnson to scramble aloft and drip blood onto his pursuer.

With Susannah Glanville in country-and-western gear we get a commanding Minnie, and if Jeff Gwaltney’s Johnson is vocally underpowered, he more than makes up for it by sheer ardour; Simon Thorpe’s Jack Rance smoulders convincingly.

Indeed, the USP of this production lies in the acting, with Barlow skilfully bringing out the loneliness of the characters, and getting the chorus to express both the organised savagery of the wolf-pack and the kindness which desperation can engender. And also lies in the orchestral playing, with conductor Stuart Stratford generating a furiously propulsive energy throughout.

From time to time the venue makes its own contribution, as when a peacock adds its voice to the double-bass menace as Minnie and Rance play cards to win custody of their prisoner.