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[Herald Review] Puccini’s Wild West opera makes debut in Korea

Scene from Korea National Opera’s performance of “La Fanciulla del West” (KNO)
Scene from Korea National Opera’s performance of “La Fanciulla del West” (KNO)

After a yearlong postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korea National Opera went onstage Thursday for the Korean premiere of Puccini’s 1910 opera “La Fanciulla del West.”

After the Italian production team completed a two-week, mandatory self-quarantine, the national opera troupe took to the stage Thursday at the Seoul Arts Center. Every other seat at the theater was left empty due to coronavirus restrictions.

“La Fanciulla del West” was written by Italian composer Puccini, who had created numerous hit operas such as “Tosca,” “La Boheme,” “Madama Butterfly” and more. It is based on a drama written by American playwright David Belasco.

The 130-minute opera began against the backdrop of Polka Saloon in California. The stage was beautifully designed like a bar in the Wild West with a dark wood interior and dim lighting.

It opens with gold rush miners in California drinking whiskey and singing about their nostalgia until sheriff Jack Rance, played by baritone Antonio Yang, steps in. After explaining that bandit Ramerrez is on the run, the sheriff confesses his love for Minnie, the owner of the saloon.

Minnie was played by Armenian operatic soprano Karine Babajanyan. Babajanyan put up a memorable performance with her depiction of the smart, independent female character.

Tenor Marco Berti played Dick Johnson, Minnie’s lover, who is actually the bandit Ramerrez.

Conductor Pietro Rizzo, who worked with the KNO on “Don Carlo” in 2013, was joined by the Korean Symphony Orchestra and the Met Opera Choir in performing the opera music, considered one of the most modern music to have been written by Puccini.

The performance by the KNO marked the Korean debut of the opera, more than a century later since it had its world premiere at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1910.

In the 20th century premiere, Italian maestro Toscanini took the baton and legendary tenor Enrico Caruso and Met star Emmy Destinn played the leading roles of Dick Johnson and Minnie.

The Korea National Opera’s next performance will be Verdi’s “Nabucco” from Aug. 12-15 at the National Theater of Korea, followed by Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila,” Oct. 7-10 and Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Dec. 2-5, both at the Seoul Arts Center.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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