Met Opera 2018-19 Preview: Enrico Caruso, Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Plácido Domingo & The Historical Interpreters Of ‘La Fanciulla del West’

By David Salazar

This Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, the Metropolitan Opera will bring back Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West,” which incidentally had its world premiere with the company back in 1910. In the context of other Puccini works, this one is seldom performed. For context, “La Bohème,” is the company’s most performed work, with 1300-plus performances in the company’s history. “Tosca,” meanwhile has close to 1,000 performances in its history. “Fanciullas?” 104. By the time this run is through, it will total 111 performances.

One of the main reasons for its limited appearances is that it is a massive work to mount, requiring some of the finest singers around. So as we prepare for the upcoming run, here’s a look at the singers to take on the two challenging roles – those of Minnie and Dick Johnson.

The Golden Girl

Emmy Destinn was the first-ever Minnie in history, and also the one to put on the most performances of the role at the Met. She gave the first 24 performances of the role between 1910 and 1914.

Then came Maria Jeritza, who gave a whopping 14 interpretations of the role between 1929 and 1931. Leonora Corona gave two performances in 1930, breaking up Jeritza’s streak of consecutive showcases of the opera.

The opera disappeared for decades returning in 1961 with Leontyne Price in the title role. She gave a total of five performances between 1961 and 1962.

At the same time, Dorothy Kirsten was making her rounds as Minnie, taking on the role a total of 18 times between 1961 and 1970.

Eleanor Steber gave but one performance as the heroine in 1966, while Lynn Owen gave five presentations that same year. Beverly Bower was also an interpreter of the role that same year with two shows to her credit.

Renata Tebaldi, one of the role’s most famous interpreters actually only performed the role five times in her Met career, all of the showcases in 1970.

Then the opera disappeared another 20 years before Barbara Daniels brought the heroine back to life, giving a total of 11 performances during the 1991-92 season. Mary Jane Johnson replaced her for a single performance of that run.

In 1993, Ghena Dimitrova gave seven performances of the title role, with Carol Neblett her replacement in one show during the run.

Deborah Voigt and Elisabete Matos alternated the most recent run in 2010, the former taking on seven performances and the latter two.

In sum, there have been 14 interpreters of the lead role in Met history. Eva-Maria Westbroek will become the 15th interpreter of the role this Thursday.

The Bandit

Yusif Eyvazov and Jonas Kaufmann will alternate the role of Dick Johnson throughout this run.

The first one ever was none other than Enrico Caruso, who took on the role 20 times between 1910 and 1914.

Amedeo Bassi got three performances in 1911 and Riccardo Martin got one in 1914 during Caruso’s reign in this Puccini work.

Giovanni Martinelli was next up to dominate the scene as Dick Johnson, putting on 12 performances between 1929 and 1931; the aptly named Edward Johnson appeared in three showcases during that same span.

The 1960s were years full of alternating casts and it is no surprise that in this time period we saw a slew of different interpreters. For eight shows, audiences got to see Richard Tucker’s famed interpretation in the early 1960s; Franco Corelli’s equally renowned take on the character got seven appearances in 1965 and 1966. Sándor Kónya also took on the role 10 times between 1961-70. Gaetano Bardini also performed six times during the 1966 season. Robert Nagy sang two shows in 1966 and Ion Buzea was Dick Johnson in two “Fanciulla del West” performances in 1970.

After a long hiatus, Plácido Domingo brought the role back to life with nine performances; Vladimir Popov was his alternate in three shows during that run. A year later, Nicola Martinucci would get eight straight shows.

In the most recent run, Marcello Giordani headlined the production for eight shows while Carl Tanner appeared in one performance.

There have also been 14 interpreters of Dick Johnson to date; Eyvazov and Kaufmann will be the 15th and 16th interpreters respectively.