So, although Paul LaRosa was hard to hear as Jack Rance, he looked and played the part well. Jonathan Burton worked hard to pump out the volume of sound needed for Dick Johnson (who is actually the bandit Ramerrez; Belasco excelled at melodramatic cliche), and played the part with a kind of unromantic friendliness and a warm smile that actually convinced me that Minnie might fall for him, since he was so different from anyone else she met. And Ekaterina Metlova did valiantly as Minnie. It’s a part that requires not only volume but the dramatic stature to pull off playing the tomboy-with-a-heart-of-gold figure with more force of personality than anyone on stage. Metlova was more spunky than noble — sporting a flowing shirt and tight black pants like something Johnny Depp might have worn in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” courtesy of Davide Gilioli — but she hit big notes where called for and mostly carried the role, although she couldn’t quite pull off the key moment when she wins the poker game (by cheating) with a heartfelt cry of “Three aces and a pair!” (In Italian, of course.)
Gilioli’s sets met respectable international standards — cue the jokes about how Minnie’s little cabin looked like a palatial ski chalet, a frequent byproduct of a designer’s attempt to reconcile his vision, his budget and the huge scale of an opera proscenium. Like the opera, the sets were best and most evocative in Act I (the bar) and sketchiest in Act III, where it doesn’t matter all that much where we are — Dick Johnson is about to be hanged, and Minnie comes riding in to save him. Giandomenico Vaccari, the director, who generally did a creditable job of making the opera work, appeared to have moved the action here from a California forest to a mine shaft, and, reasonably if regrettably, dispensed with Minnie’s traditional entrance on horseback, letting Metlova run out on stage almost unobtrusively instead.