Conceived by Belasco and filtered through Puccini, the characters in La fanciulla del West exhibit a diversity that is unusual even for an opera with an exotic setting: Mexicans, Australians, and European-Americans of various backgrounds reinvent themselves in a new land of seemingly endless possibilities, while the area's native inhabitants struggle to survive. California's multi-cultural population as understood by Belasco, by his Broadway audience, and by Puccini and his operatic audience create compound layers of difference that both focus and obscure the racial and ethnic hierarchies that played out in the 1840s and 50s. This article will begin to untangle these relationships by examining the experiences of three racial or ethnic groups in the historical Gold Rush, as well as their representations in the fictional Gold Rushes of both Belasco and Puccini. It will also consider the unique status of La fanciulla del West, an opera whose setting is simultaneously exotic to its composer and familiar to a large segment of its audience, and will conclude by considering how Americans' heightened sensitivity to questions of authenticity in this work relates to issues of racial and ethnic representation in other operas.

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Copyright © 2010 Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini. This article first appeared in Studi pucciniani 4 (2010), 89-101.

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