Great Moments In Opera, Act Three Of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla Del West”

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The third act of “La Fanciulla Del West” begins with Johnson’s capture, who by then everybody is fully aware that he is really the wanted bandit, Ramirez. As he is being brought to a camp site where he is to be hung by a bunch of men, who are hurling abuse at him with not only verbal taunts but physical abuse which shows in the bruises and cuts on his face.  Ramirez’s hands are tied up, as he is being led while some of the men, who were sent to capture him even spit at him while others call him a bandit as well as a murder; though this second accusation he strappingly denies. Ramirez, claiming he was a thief but never a murder.

 

Rance is present amongst the men who will watch Ramirez hang and it is with some satisfaction that he will do so. As Ramirez is the man, who in his opinion has stolen the love of his life. Ramirez after a short speech in which he declares himself not be a murder, is about to be hung as the noose has been place around his neck yet it is at this moment that he asks a favor of those who mean to execute him. Rance however does not wish to hear what he wants yet the rest say it is the least they can do since he is soon to be executed anyway. Ramirez then seeing his time on earth is limited asks the men if instead of telling Minnie how he really ended up, that they could tell her that she escaped and is living somewhere far away in a world of redemption. Ramirez declaring in his supplication to the other men, who agree as this favor will not cost them anything. Rance however sees Ramirez’s pleas as insolent and even slaps him yet it is in the two minutes that he is given to express his last thoughts that we hear one of the most inspirational pieces of music ever written by Puccini.

 

“Ch’ella Mì Creda Libero” being the title of the aria which Ramirez uses to tell the rest of the men that in all his life, Minnie was his only flower and now that he faces his last moment, he wants her to believe even if it is not true that he managed to escape and is living somewhere in freedom as a man of good. This aria almost pleading with those about him that they do this not so much for him but for Minnie, who has fallen in love with him; so that she will not be saddened for the rest of her life with the truth that he met his death at the end of a rope. For my own taste, I can say that among those tenors who have sung this aria, my favorite is Placido Domingo; who adds something in his lovely voice and acting ability to this part which to my way of seeing things even surpasses the way the great Caruso originally did this role.

 

It is after Ramirez’s almost desperate appeal that he is about to be hung and undoubtedly would have been had it not been for the following circumstance. First, this is an American opera and tragic endings are not what is expected. Second, because Minnie comes to his rescue with a shotgun, saying if they wish to execute him they will have to kill her as well. It being at this point that the men see that Minnie really does love Ramirez and is even willing to die for him not that they have any real desires to kill her. As she is the one who has done so much for them yet they are still reluctant to simply let Ramirez go. Minnie however begs them to release the man who is the first man she has ever loved. Minnie insisting they can do so if they only wish to and it is with the noble heart of the good woman she is that she is able to convince all the men, one by one that there is no justice in hanging a man who has never killed anybody. The men at this point realize the hurt they would be causing a woman who has done nothing but good for them by executing Ramirez which prompts them to let him go in peace with the woman who loves him as much as he loves her. Ramirez even being looked upon with kind eyes by some of the men who shake his hand to demonstrate that there are no hard feelings which he also does not feel for them.

 

Once released, Minnie puts her tender arms around Ramirez while they embrace in a kiss and declare that they are leaving California for good to live elsewhere and it is with sadness that the men bid farewell to the couple; as act four and “La Fanciulla Del West” come to an end. In conclusion, I would say that this is a wonderful opera even if it does not share the popularity of other works by Puccini, for it captures that feeling of romance which makes Italian opera one of pure enjoyment for the mind as well as emotions.