Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Santa Fe Opera’s Sheriff of the Golden West: A Conversation with Mark Delavan

August 5th, 2016

The following conversation took place with the facilitation of the Santa Fe Opera, in conjunction with Mark Delavan’s appearances as Sheriff Jack Rance in Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West [La Fanciulla del West]”.


[Below: Mark Delavan as Jack Rance in Richard Jones’ 2016 Santa Fe Opera production of Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West”.]


Wm: You play the part of Sheriff Jack Rance in Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” at Santa Fe Opera to Patricia Racette’s Minnie. You now have experienced this role in different productions in the U. S. and Europe.

MD: That’s correct. My first time was a Covent Garden in 2005. That was that amazing production from the 1980s directed by Piero Faggioni.

[Below: Mark Delavan is Jack Rance, with Jose Cura as Dick Johnson in the 2005 Piero Faggioni production of Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West”; edited image, based on a publicity photograph for the Royal Opera House.


Wm: Would you comment on the proposition that the opera is one of the great scores of the verismo era, and that, in productions like the co-production of the Santa Fe Opera and the English National Opera, it could become an opera audience favorite.

MD: Honestly, I think it already is an audience favorite. In terms of one of the great verismo operas, I think it speaks for itself. The music is exquisite, the score is phenomenal, and the vocal line is beyond comparison. In fact, many parts of the opera hint back to Bel canto.

In my opinion, the top complaint in the books has to be that it’s not done as often as other audience favorites. The problem here is that it’s very difficult to produce. It’s very expensive, and you have to have a lot of really good singers.

Most people only think of the principal three, but you have to have a very good Ashby, Sonora and a very good Nick. In addition,  you have to put your young artists to work singing Trin, Happy, Bello and all those guys.

Wm: It’s pretty obvious that Santa Fe Opera went out of its way to produce just such a “Fanciulla” cast. There also was obvious chemistry between the artists performing.

MD: That’s an excellent comment, Bill. For years, I’ve been hoping someone would ask me about casting “Fanciulla”. First of all, I think an opera company makes a mistake if they if they don’t cast lead singers in roles of Sonora, Nick, and Ashby.

When Santa Fe asks Craig Verm to do Sonora, that is luxury casting to be sure, as he is a leading man in his own right. But Alan Glassman as Nick, (whom I’ve done dozens of shows with both at the Met and New York City Opera, including Verdi’s “Otello”, and have known for 22 years) , and Raymond Aceto as Ashby (whom I’ve also performed many operas with including Verdi’s “Nabucco” and “Rigoletto” and have known for 24 years) is outrageous casting.

Wm: In addition, this is one of the rare occasions to hear Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones perform in the American Southwest.

MD: I met Gwyn Hughes-Jones back in 2004 when we were both performing in the Met’s “Nabucco”. We didn’t really get a chance to know each other then, but we have certainly made up for lost time. Despite being an amazing singer with a classic Celtic sound, he’s also an amazing man.

I am privileged and honored to call these men my friends. Knowing what you know about those particular individuals, try to imagine what the dressing room is like. (Here in Santa Fe, we share a communal dressing room). The men’s dressing room is more like a locker room than a dressing room. The laughter can be heard all the way to the town of Espanola.

[Below: Minnie, the Girl of the Golden West (Patricia Racette, left) becomes enamored of the outlaw who calls himself Dick Johnson (Gwyn Hughes Jones, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]

Tags: William's Conversations