Opera in three acts (1910)

Composer Giacomo Puccini · Libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini based on the play „The Girl of the Golden West“ by David Belasco
In Italian with German and English surtitles | New Production

  • sponsored by

To List of Performances

Cast for all dates

James Gaffigan
Andreas Dresen
Assistant Director
Frauke Meyer
Mathias Fischer-Dieskau
Sabine Greunig
Michael Bauer
Stellario Fagone
Rainer Karlitschek, Lukas Leipfinger

Anja Kampe
Jack Rance
John Lundgren
Dick Johnson
Brandon Jovanovich
Kevin Conners
Bálint Szabó
Tim Kuypers
Manuel Günther
Alexander Milev
Justin Austin
Galeano Salas
Freddie De Tommaso
Christian Rieger
Norman Garrett
Billy Jackrabbit
Oleg Davydov
Noa Beinart
Jake Wallace
Sean Michael Plumb
José Castro
Oğulcan Yilmaz
Ein Postillon
Ulrich Reß
  • Bayerisches Staatsorchester
  • Chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper
To List of Performances


To List of Performances

Learn more

A scene steeped in melancholy and sadness: The gold diggers in Puccini’s opera La fanciulla del West based on David Belasco’s Drama The Girl of the Golden West have lost all hope of wealth and riches. The bitter reality – the bleak slog of hard work. Much laborious digging brings only a little gold; barely enough to keep body and soul together. Minnie alone, the only woman in the camp, barmaid and person of authority, brings a little comfort and affection to their existence. But of course she too longs for true and pure love. And here is the mysterious newcomer, who also harbours a dark secret. He is head of a brutal band of thieves, with money on his head. Can he leave his past behind him, start again or even find forgiveness in such an inhospitable world? And with enhanced, highly emotional sound dramaturgy Puccini spears the opera at the question of what is stronger:  Love or law?

1st Act: In the “Polka” bar

The workers in the gold-mining camp are celebrating the end of their shift together in the “Polka” bar. The drinks are flowing, smoke fills the air, and the cards are on the tables. Jake Wallace, the minstrel, starts to sing a song of nostalgia. Touched by memories of family and home, one by one the miners join in. One of them, Larkens, struggles badly with homesickness and begs his colleagues for help, whereby another, Sonora, collects money for the desperate man.

Sid’s cheating at poker has been discovered. Just as the others want to lynch him, the sheriff, Jack Rance, intervenes in the chaos and forbids Sid from playing in further poker games. Sid is then thrown out of the bar.

Ashby, the “Wells Fargo” agent responsible for the secure transport of the gold, enters the bar and tells of his futile search for the bandit Ramerrez and his gang. In the meantime, Rance and Sonora begin to argue fiercely about which of them shall have the right to

the hand of Minnie, the landlady of the “Polka” bar. Minnie herself ends the fight. The men make the adored landlady various gifts.

With full attention, all the men participate in the religious lesson hosted by Minnie, in which she explains, with the aid of Psalm 51, that the love of God may allow forgiveness to every sinner. The Pony Express rider arrives with mail into which the miners immerse themselves. Ashby proudly proclaims to Rance that he has received information on the whereabouts of Ramerrez’ from his alleged lover Nina Micheltorena, and wishes to capture the bandit later that day. The sheriff appears sceptical and warns against trusting the informant.

Rance pressures Minnie to wed him, but she rejects his advances. A man named Johnson enters the saloon, and Rance lets go of her. Minnie and Johnson recognise each other; they once met fleetingly, and begin to wallow in the memories. The miners incited by Rance against the stranger allow themselves to be placated by Minnie and even encourage her to waltz with Johnson.

The jovial atmosphere changes as the captured bandit Castro from Ramerrez’ gang is dragged into the saloon and interrogated. Sent on a false trail by the captive, the majority of the men head off to apprehend Ramerrez. Castro, who recognises Johnson as his leader Ramerrez, secretly lets him in on his plan: he allowed himself to be captured, and a whistle from Johnson should be enough to summon the rest of the gang.

Apart from the bartender Nick, only Minnie and Johnson stay behind and they get closer to each other. Johnson learns from Minnie that she has never kissed a man. After showing him the saloon, she invites him home to the place where the gold is stored.


2nd Act: Minnie’s dwelling

Minnie’s housekeeper Wowkle and her partner Billy Jackrabbit, both destitute and concerned for the future of their child, are planning their wedding. The lady of the house shoos Billy from her abode and orders Wowkle to pre-

pare food for her dinner with Johnson and clean the apartment.

After Johnson’s arrival, Minnie sends Wowkle home and confesses her love for him. They kiss. He then wishes to leave, but a heavy snowfall has made the road unpassable. Johnson becomes nervous as he hears pistol shots outside, and stays with Minnie. Both swear their love for each other, and she learns his first name: Dick.

Upon hearing shouts from outside, Minnie urges Johnson to hide, as she fears Rance’s jealousy. Rance arrives together with Nick, Ashby and Sonora to warn Minnie that the bandit Ramerrez has been seen near her apartment. They also inform her that Johnson is actually Ramerrez, a fact she refuses to believe. Nick notices Johnson’s cigar butt on the floor, but conceals this information from the others. Minnie learns from Rance that the news of Johnson’s true identity has come from Nina Micheltorena, and that she was carrying a photograph of the bandit.

Once the men have left Minnie’s apartment, she approaches Johnson and accuses him of only coming to the Polka to steal gold. He then reveals himself to be Ramerrez and attempts to justify his actions: after the death of his father, he took charge of the gang and accepted this new-found power as his fate. Realising that Johnson had stolen her first kiss under false pretences, she sends him packing.

Johnson is shot and hauls himself back to Minnie’s home, where she hides him in the attic. Rance has followed Johnson’s trail to her apartment, but is unable to find him at first. He pressures Minnie for information and assures her again of his love. Upon discovering traces of blood, Rance then finds Johnson in hiding.

In desperation, Minnie suggests a game of poker to Rance. Victory should decide whether Minnie give herself to the sheriff and Johnson die, or whether Rance leave the lovers in peace. She cheats, and wins. Rance keeps his promise and leaves her apartment without a word.


3rd Act: The hunt

In the meantime, the miners, together with Billy Jackrabbit, Nick, Ashby and Rance have been looking for days for Johnson. Rance bemoans his decision not to apprehend Johnson when he had the chance.

Johnson is eventually captured after a wild chase, and presented by Ashby to Rance, who has been chosen to execute the hanging. Rance savours his triumph while the others demand Johnson’s quick execution. Nick bribes Billy, who is preparing the gallows, to delay the hanging so he can alert Minnie.

The enraged men accuse Johnson of further murders, which he naturally disputes; he is a thief, not a killer. Furthermore, he begs them to refrain from telling Minnie about his brutal execution, and that she may believe that he escaped with his life.

Armed with a pistol, Minnie interrupts the execution and stands protectively in front of Johnson, whose neck is already in the noose from which the men wish to see him dangle. Threatening her own suicide, Minnie is then able to stave off the wild pack. She reminds the men of her religious class on forgiveness. One after the other, the men decide to save Johnson. Minnie then bids farewell to the miners, and leaves the state together with Johnson.

To List of Performances


James Gaffigan, geboren in New York, studierte am New England Conservatory of Music in Boston sowie an der Shepherd School of Music der Universität von Houston. Von 2003 bis 2006 war er musikalischer Assistent von Franz Welser-Möst beim Cleveland Orchestra. 2004 gewann er den Internationalen Dirigentenwettbewerb Sir Georg Solti. Von 2009 bis 2012 war er fester Gastdirigent beim San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. 2010 wurde er Chefdirigent des Luzerner Sinfonieorchesters. Zudem ist er Erster Gastdirigent der Niederländischen Radio-Philharmonie. Gastengagements führten ihn u. a. zum London Philharmonic Orchestra, dem Orchestre de Paris, dem Orchestre National de France, dem Deutschen Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, der Staatskapelle Dresden, dem Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, der Philharmonie Seoul sowie an die Metropolitan Opera in New York, die Wiener Staatsoper, die Staatsoper Hamburg und zum Glyndebourne Festival. (Stand: 2019)

To List of Performances