REVIEW: The Girl of the Golden West: ENO

October 6, 2014


The Girl of the Golden West

Giacomo Puccini


Director Richard Jones has kept this production humble, earnest and heartfelt, not veering away from the sentiment, even when it drew laughs and also quietly highlighting the dismissive treatment of the Native American’s in this grasping early depeiction of  California.  Jones has successfully shown us the honest human story in this adolescent melodrama without trashing its very sweet and delicate heart. So easy to mock, so difficult to produce free of irony, and deftly handled here.

This is far more complex than our love of Western movies and their syrupy clichés would have us believe, there is a real story in here, full of reflection and the complex changes of cause and effect. What seems inevitable is changed by conviction and one women facing down a rabid angry armed mob – and succeeding – is well worth watching.  It’s been 50 years since the ENO last did a production of The Girl of the Golden West and this is a great revival, worth the wait and folk should sit up and take notice of this emotionally engaging, historically empathic and moving new production of Puccini’s opera.


The simple, clever and evocative sets by Miriam Buethe capture the claustrophobic feeling of living in the wilds but also the simplicity of mining life, although there were moments where the Polka bar looked like a Croydon gay bar mostly the simple effects worked and allowed the action to take centre stage. Minnie’s minimalist cabin is all stripped pine and whip-crack-away neatness but does give us the sense of small simple space for the intimate action to unfold in. The final set evocative of Edward Hopper moved silently back with the farewell scenes giving a subtle magical and early Hollywood feel to the stage. Nicky Gillibrands’ costumes were full of details and small changes that caught the formal harshness of the miner’s life. This transported us into the heart of the West; this was manufactured nostalgia at its very best.

Keri-Lynn Wilson conducted the orchestra of the ENO with flair and a close eye to the emotional pace unfolding on stage always keeping to the right side of engaging fun without tipping into pastiche.  The orchestra was clear, vibrant and almost unbearably understated on occasion, full of hint and mournful reflection and utterly delightful from the refulgent opening thump of magnificence to the soft silent farewell where we all held our breath for the last note. This was Wilson’s debut in the English opera pit and what an entrance, well done her!

More info on Girl of the Golden West, CLICK HERE:


Susan Bullock’s Minnie was punchy, forceful and full of trembling need and her voice pulled the narrative along behind her like a steam engine, her sheer conviction and power over-shadowing some sillier parts of the plot and her change from needy never-been-kissed to a passionate protective she-wolf with an edge of self-preserving psychosis was tremendous and conclusive. Peter Auty as Johnson (and Ramerrez, the bandit) sang well, full of soft lyric authority and his duets wrapped themselves around Bullock’s voice perfectly. Although I wasn’t convinced of his banditry much, but then that’s Puccini for you, always wanting to slip another plot line in somewhere just in case… Craig Colclough’s Sherriff Rance was bold, butch and full of bravado only really in love with money but consumed with a real desire for Minnie.  Colclough manages to bring these essential contradictions fully out in to the open, handling the change from bully to broken drunk with compassionate vocal conviction.

The all-male chorus were wondrous; clipped, clear and boisterous it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed such singing. They were a storm of sound, full of energy and careful choreography.  When they are peeling off their angry conviction one by one to relinquish Johnson to Minnie’s protection you could feel them calming down and shamefully fading off one by one, their guns at first all focused, then dropping and falling away. They were truly gripping from their rowdy homesick edgy  fun in the bar to the angry mob’s ‘Keystone cops’ chase & lynching scene.


A fantastic evening’s entertainment and a sure fire winner for the ENO and any true fan of Puccini, grasp this opportunity to see this almost perfect production.

If you fancy something that’s going to surprise you, make you smile and leave you feeling that you’ve watched and enjoyed something relevant, then book some tickets for this production now, it’s a warm, delightful old classic western.

Runs until Nov 1 on:

October 10, 15, 18, 22, 24, 27, 30 and November 1.

To book tickets, CLICK HERE:

English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martins Lane, London

For map, CLICK HERE: