Golden Girl

28 Oct

ENO’s new Girl of the Golden West, which I saw on 27th October is one of their great evenings.  Itstarts with a bang – the prelude begins while the lights are up and Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts it with gusto, subtlety and absolute command of the idiom. You know you’re in safe hands. The same applies when the curtain goes up, a picture of the Polka – three rooms, bar safe and dance area – just before it opens. You know it’s Richard Jones and you know it’s going to work.

It has all of Jones’s trademarks: precise, clear movements, striking stage pictures and really good, clear acting. He gets the melodrama of the piece – at one point, Minnie opens her cabin door and all you see is a gun pointing at her. The stage are pictures strong and achieved withouts looking contrived or unnatural. It’s a gem of a piece of technical direction. Aside from some slight updating – the Polka has electric light – there’s hardly any interference. It’s a strong, clear reading of the piece which holds you in its grip and which responds directly to the music.  It’s as winning and sensible a version as the old Faggioni production at the Royal Opera House – interesting that, if you ignore the dismal Holland Park offering, this is only the second London production in fifty years.

Miriam Buether’s set looks great – clearly defined areas and the stage suitably reduced for Minnie’s cabin. At the end, the miners and sheriff’s office are pulled away disappearing into the distance – a lovely effect.

The cast is great. Susan Bullock’s Minnie is marvellously assured. She conveys the integrity and certainty of the woman, of the dawning of love for Johnson. You could tell that she had the men under her thumb and almost made you believe that she could persuade them to let Johnson go at the end. She may not quite have the voluptuousness of Westbroek and at times the voice tends towards the squally when under pressure, but she sang with beautiful softness and charted the woman’s emotions perfectly. She sang the English words clearly.

Peter Auty was Johnson, catching the certainty, the charm and the selfishness of the man. He sang really well. Ideally you might want a little more heft but there’s a nice Puccinian bloom about the voice and, again, the diction was great. Craig Colclough was a gruff, convincingly depressive Rance. The three struck sparks off each other.

The rest were first rate – a nice mixture of youth and experience. It was great to have Graham Clark as Nick – beautifully observed and clearly sung – and there was great work from Nicholas Masters (Ashby), Leigh Melrose (Sonora), George Humphreys (Jake Wallace) and Clare Presland (Wowkle) in particular, but they were leading a really excellent group of miners and fine chorus work.  It felt like a community

It’s the first time that I’ve heard the piece in English and Kelley Rourke’s translation caught the idiom of the piece really well. The opening sounds slightly odd – even translated it sounds italianate, but as the dialogue begins you start listening as if it were a play or musical. Diction, as I’ve suggested, was really clear and I loved having the directness of the words.

Ms Wilson strikes me as a major talent – she had the piece perfectly under control; you could hear the words, the orchestra was in the sort of form it reserves for Edward Gardner and the whole thing gelled into a hugely successful, enjoyable show.  Girl of the Golden West is a piece of hokum, but it’s perfectly contrived and with a production that gets it as well as this, it feels like a masterpiece.  I hope they bring it back.

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