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That John Hudson's Dick Johnson swept her of her feet was comprehensible given that Hudson is a great bear of a man and towered over Makris, making her look small. That said, Hudson is a bulky figure and does not have the physique of a hero; on his first entrance, his leather chaps made him look extremely ungainly. But he attacked the role fearlessly and generally sang with generous open tone. Hudson's voice is not particularly Italianate, but he shaped Puccini's lines and had the flexibility not to simply scream all the time.

You knew that Olafur Sigurdarson's Jack Rance did not stand a chance with Minnie when you saw that he was smaller than she and considerably heavier. But Sigurdarson has an impressive, dark voice and sang Rance's music with a brilliant confidence, though some of his top notes were waywardly loud. However, it was still an impressive performance, though he did not really convey the dangerousness lurking beneath the surface which some of the best Rances can do.

Doon Jun Wong sang the small but important role of the minstrel, Jake Wallace. It is Wallace who introduces the 'minstrel tune' which develops into an important musical feature of the last act. Unfortunately Wong's voice had rather too much vibrato for my taste, which spoiled the effect of his big tune.

For Act 2, Francis O'Connor created a small section of Minnie's house which gave a good flavour of its claustrophobic nature as well as functioning well for the action of the act. Minnie and Dick's interrupted love scene was nicely understated, as it should be. One of the things that Puccini learned from Debussy in this opera was the interrupted, understated love scenes; La Fanciulla del West has no big set piece love duet at all. Minnie and Rance's card game was similarly gripping: Makris and Sigurdarson ensured that the tension gradually mounted through the scene.

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Copyright © 26 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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