La Fanciulla del West, Opera Holland Park London

How the 'West' was won

Puccini's opera La Fanciulla del West - the original spaghetti Western - will forever be remembered as the opera they renamed "Grannie Get Your Gun" after Gwyneth Jones took on the role of its buckskin heroine, Minnie, very late in her career. That didn't do too much for the opera's already somewhat bruised credibility, though the 1977 Royal Opera production - spectacularly designed by the James Bond man, Ken Adam - gave this neglected piece a new lease of life.

Neglect generally tends to point to inferiority, but La Fanciulla is unquestionably up there with Puccini's best-crafted pieces. Taken seriously, performed believably, it is terrific value, with the power to stir and thrill and touch us as surely as any of his operas. Besides, it gave Andrew Lloyd Webber his best thematic ideas for The Phantom of the Opera. No wonder it is so familiar.

So, why the neglect? Well, the 17 named roles, all of them male, barring the gun-totin' Minnie and her token Native American squaw, Wowkle, probably has something to do with it. That and the fact that our "golden girl of the West" is not exactly top of the lyric-dramatic soprano's hit list. A bull's-eye, then, to Opera Holland Park for finding a Minnie at all, leave alone one as good as Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs.

She is, in a word, terrific - mature enough to make this earth-mother figure believable, youthful and spirited enough to have us choking back the tears at her first kiss. And still thinking that a shotgun wedding might be on the cards.

Minnie has the best entrance in all opera: there's a brawl in her saloon, a shot rings out, and there she is in the doorway, smoking gun in hand, her rolling theme swelling proudly from the orchestra. The conductor John Gibbons made the most of that, though we needed to make allowances for the semi-open air acoustic, which has a tendency to rob both orchestra (the City of London Sinfonia) and voices of their amplitude. Blancke-Biggs, though, has more than enough voice and vocal authority to hold her own against the many different male timbres.

The voice has the plangency and steely core to make its presence felt, the smoky chest- voice colour to give it depth and warmth, and a free and uninhibited top. When she sings of her humble origins and her dream to "rise as high as the stars", Puccini has her do just that. But Blancke-Biggs wrings pathos, not bathos, from all of her big moments. Pleading for her lover's life in the masterly final scene, she nails her "boys", and us, with the line: "None of you ever said, 'that's enough', when I gave you the best years of my youth." Their response finally makes this a five-handkerchief opera.

But that's also because the director, Jo Davies, sets up Minnie's boys (her ragazzi ) so well in the first act. Plenty of character detail, animation, a believable rough and readiness against Will Bowen's plain wood frameworks. The crumbling façade of the Holland Park Theatre has something of the Californian mission about it, only fitting given the missionary zeal on display.

The tenor Ravil Atlas (Dick) was struggling with a throat infection, so some of his heroics were pitched down the octave, giving Oli Sigurdarson (Jack Rance) an unfair advantage with his intimidating bass-baritone. Minnie still cheated him out of the poker game, though, flinging down her winning hand to Puccini's best Hollywood melodramatics, complete with howling wind-machine. Only in the movies? Think again.

To 26 June (0845 230 9769; www.operahollandpark.com)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory