December 10, 1910, was perhaps the biggest night the Metropolitan Opera: then just 27 years old: had ever seen. The world premiere of the latest work by the most successful opera composer of his day was a social and artistic event that had New Yorkers buzzing for weeks before and after. Everyone was talking about La Fanciulla del West.
Three years earlier, Giacomo Puccini had come to New York to supervise the first Met production of Madama Butterfly. While he was here, he went to see a Broadway play by writer-producer-director David Belasco (whose Madame Butterfly had provided the basis for the earlier opera). But instead of Japan, this one was set in California. Entitled The Girl of the Golden West, it became the inspiration for Puccini's next stage work. In the summer of 1910, the composer signed a contract with the Met: La Fanciulla del West, his "American" opera, would first be performed in America.
Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the Met's general manager, spared no expense. Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn, and Pasquale Amato headed the cast, Arturo Toscanini was on the podium, and Belasco directed. Fanciulla was a rousing success, and Puccini, who was in the audience for the premiere, later called it "the best opera I have written."
One hundred years later, Fanciulla is back at the Met for a special centennial run of performances. American diva Deborah Voigt stars in the title role of Minnie, the fearless bar owner and bible teacher. Marcello Giordani sings the bandit Ramerrez, also known as Dick Johnson, and Lucio Gallo is the sheriff, Jack Rance.
Performances run Dec. 6 through Jan. 8.