Because tomorrow is St. Crispan’s Day, I’m doing our Sunday morning opera on Saturday. Monday is the 26th. We all know what happened at 2:30PM, October 26, 1881 in Tombstone. And, yes, there is an opera for that. It is also one of those operas I want to stage. Let’s face it, how often can you get a truly juicy baritone role, where, when done properly, the barihunk must channel Wyatt Earp. It is even better when the greatest of them all did the role with an excellent DVD of his performance available.
La fanciulla del West, which debuted at the Met, in 1910 with Enrico Caruso, was based on the American stage play, Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco. It was set in the days of the California Gold Rush, c 1849, but that doesn’t matter. What is important was the fact that it was a western. The genre of the western was important, even during the days of the Wild West. With the advent of the motion picture, westerns were plentiful, even before the turn of the century. Interestingly, before Puccini’s opera, there were only twenty-five westerns filmed, period. It came into a world just waiting for the first big star, who would be William S.Hart, followed by matinee idol Tom Mix. Both men admired Wyatt Earp and were his good friends. Both were pallbearers at his funeral. Mix was in tears. Not long before he died, a young writer went to interview Wyatt. He and Tom Mix were busy writing a list of the things he was going to as the Good Lord when he got to heaven, because he felt the Good Lord owed him an explanation for some of the things which happened in his life. Earp was a devout Christian who was more interested in talking to the woman about her relationship with Christ, than his own life.
The beauty of the Puccini opera is that the western, as a genre has already been established, with all the cliches we have, even today.
The full performance: