Puccini, Giacomo: La fanciulla del West
Act 1: "Minnie, dalla mia casa" (Jack Rance)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
What music of Puccini can a baritone choose for auditions? There's Frank's somber aria from Edgar, but it lacks dramatic interest, while Scarpia's two solos from Act 2 of Tosca suffer when sung out of context. Rance's aria from Fanciulla, however, can be heartily recommended. While embracing an opportunity to show vocal warmth and true Puccinian expressiveness, you can also penetrate — in just two minutes —to the soul of this complex character.
Rance is a sheriff, Minnie a tavern-keeper, in California during the Gold Rush days. In their first-act dialogue, Rance confesses his love for Minnie and offers to marry her. She wonders what his wife would say about that. He declares that if Minnie wishes it, he'll never see his wife again. Offended by those words, she responds that she likes living alone, with her revolver as the only trusted companion she needs. She wonders why he seems angry, since she's just being honest. He opens up to her in his aria, explaining first that he left home ("beyond the mountains, on another shore") to come to the miners' camp; in leaving, no tears were shed by him or by anyone else. He loved no one, no one loved him, and he found no pleasure in life. A bitter gambler, he can only mock love and destiny. Gold is the one thing in life that's never deceived him. Now he'd risk a fortune for a kiss from Minnie.
You need to reach solid low Bs in the first phrase, but also up to a fortissimo high F-sharp in the final one. The rest of the aria finds the line moving freely through that octave and a half, sitting mainly around low E and F-sharp, with upward leaps of a fourth frequently crucial in shaping the legato. Many baritones roar their way through this role, but the aria can make its full effect only by observing every marking the composer gives you, whether "piano," "sostenendo," "con amarezza," "cupo" or "movendo." Yes, the aria lasts just two minutes, but if you sing it with unfailing sincerity and directness, Rance's longing and loneliness can make a substantial impact.
Recording: Sherrill Milnes (Deutsche Grammophon DVD), Cornell MacNeil (Decca CD), Tito Gobbi (Opera d'Oro CD)
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