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

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In act two of “La Fanciulla Del West”, we see Minnie go home to her cabin, where she takes special care in decorating herself in what Americans dub “her Sunday best” in order to await the arrival of he; who has truly captured her interest in the way she had always hoped. Minnie wants this to be a most special evening and how this desire manifests itself in the joy she takes in preparing for Johnson’s arrival. As she with glee goes about not only presenting herself in the fashion of a lady of beauty and elegance but also the manner in which she tries to make her home as pleasant a place as her means will allow.

 

Minnie sparkles in her wears and eyes of affection, as Johnson makes his entrance in to her humble cabin and it is with all the sentiments they share for each other that they spend a romantic evening. It being Minnie, who tells of her previous life, in what in all sincerity can be considered an evening of delight. The evening along with the romance between Minnie and Johnson are however interrupted when sheriff Rance, accompanied by some men knock on Minnie’s door. Minnie, for her part knowing Rance to be a man of jealous ways tells Johnson to hide while she gets rid of Rance.

 

Rance however surprises Minnie by revealing to her that Johnson in reality is the bandit, whom they are looking for. Minnie, at first refuses to accredit what she is being told as she puts Rance’s accusations down to jealousy yet she is told of a mistress Johnson (or Ramirez) has near by who has informed on him. Minnie at this point is confused yet she does not hand Johnson over to Rance and his men, as she is still in love with him. It is however when she is, once again left alone with Johnson that she confronts him with what she has been told. Johnson at this point confesses the truth regarding his identity which prompts Minnie to throw him out of her cabin and it is with great sadness that she cries as he walks out of her life; claiming it is all over between her and Johnson. Minnie feels sad, as Johnson has left her and it is with regret that she consuls herself that the matter of Johnson no longer concerns her.

 

A minute however goes by when shots are heard outside Minnie’s cabin and it does not take long for Johnson, who has been wounded to return. Minnie seeing Johnson is seriously wounded tells him to hide, for she is aware that Rance is sure to look for him in her cabin. Johnson accepts Minnie’s offer, of shelter as Rance in fact comes back to look for Johnson though this time he does so unaccompanied. Rance informs Minnie that Johnson has been shot nearby and that he is on his trail. Minnie however claims she has not seen or heard from him which Rance believes yet it is as he is about to leave that a drop of blood falls on his head from Minnie’s ceiling. It being all too clear to Rance that Minnie has hidden Johnson in her attic.

 

Minnie, seeing that Rance means to arrest Johnson makes him an offer of a poker game in which she promises, herself in marriage along with letting him take Johnson if she should loose yet should she win then it is Rance; who must let Johnson go. Rance accepts, as this is the moment he has been waiting for, for a very long time. Minnie and Rance play the first hand and it is Minnie to come out on top in a contest which will be won by the first who manages to win 2 out of 3 hands. The second hand however is won by Rance, to even up the score at one a piece. As the contest becomes more intense with the third and final hand to decide not only weather or not Johnson should go free but Minnie’s fate as well.

 

The cards are drawn and Minnie knows she has lost, as she in fact has nothing while Rance is holding a much better hand. Rance can smell victory and more importantly for him the hand of Minnie in marriage yet Minnie has a trick up her sleeve or better yet one up her stockings. It is at this point that Minnie’s cunning comes in to play as she fakes being ill and asks Rance to get her medication and it is as he is distracted with worry over her health that she discards the useless cards she was dealt and cleverly takes out of her stockings a winning hand. Rance returns to the table with Minnie’s medicine which she takes and pronounces that she has two pairs which beats Rance’s hand. Rance is enraged at the sight of Minnie’s winning hand yet despite being bitter, accepts his defeat graceful and much to his credit, honors the deal he made with Minnie; as he exits her cabin with the words “bona notte” (good night).

 

This scene is one of the most real in opera drama, as the moment is one made tense by how the fate of three individuals as well as the life of one will be decided by something as fickle as cards in a poker game yet it is this scene which is made ever the more tense by Puccini’s music which captures it to perfection. It being precisely when Minnie is in despair at having lost the last hand that we sense that she is in trouble only to come out on top, thanks to her astute ways which see her emerge triumphant and free of having to marry a man she does not wish to while setting free the one; whom she has fallen in love with.

 

Minnie however despite having won, is left alone as Johnson decides that perhaps it would be best for all concerned if he simply left Minnie’s cabin and got out of her life. Minnie, for her part begs him to stay or at least until his wound has healed however Johnson is adamant about going on his way. This bringing about the end to the second act of “La Fanciulla Del West” to set up what will follow in the third and final act of this lovely opera.