Girl of the Golden WestStudy Guide


The Story  In a miner's camp during the California gold rush, Sheriff Jack Rance is jealous of the friendly relationship between Minnie and Dick Johnson, the mysterious stranger who recently arrived in town. After Johnson and Minnie have a quiet supper together in her cabin, a snowstorm forces him to stay the night. The sheriff arrives to inform Minnie that her friend Dick Johnson is none other than the infamous bandit Ramerrez.

After Jack Rance leaves, Minnie confronts "Dick Johnson" with this accusation. He admits to the charge and begs her to understand. She refuses, however, and orders him to leave. The minute he leaves, he is shot by the sheriff, who was lying in wait outside. Minnie drags him back inside and hides him. When the sheriff enters, Minnie challenges him to a game of poker. If he wins, Minnie will marry him. However, if she wins, Ramerrez is to go free. She wins by cheating, and Rance departs.

Later on, Rance receives word that Ramerrez has been caught and is about to be hanged. As the bandit is led to the gallows, Minnie arrives and begs for his life. The miners give in because of their affection for Minnie, and the couple depart to begin a new life together.

 The opera’s running times:

                  Act one (60 minutes)

                20 minute intermission

                 Act Two (43 minutes)

               20 minute intermission

                 Act Three (26 minutes)

The Operatic Voice

horse photoA true (and brief) definition of the “operatic” voice is a difficult proposition.  Many believe the voice is “born,” while just as many hold to the belief that the voice is “trained.”  The truth lies somewhere between the two.  Voices that can sustain the demands required by the operas do have many things in common.  First and foremost is a strong physical technique that allows the singer to sustain long phrases through the control of both the inhalation and exhalation of breath.  Secondly, the voice (regardless of its size) must maintain a resonance in both the head (mouth, sinuses) and chest cavities.  This is the brilliant tone required to penetrate the full symphony orchestra that accompanies the singers.  Finally, all voices are defined by both the actual voice “type” and the selection of repertoire (see definitions for explanation) for which the voice is ideally suited.

Opera singers develop a certain style (sound) of singing that is very different from what is usually heard on the radio or television.  Although opera has been performed since the time of the early Greeks, the methods used in contemporary opera singing have a history that traces to the fifteenth century at its earliest. Opera singers do not all sound the same.  They sing as differently as people speak; but within those differences, there are six basic "types" or "ranges" of operatic voices:

Soprano                       The highest female voice

Mezzo-soprano            The medium female voice

Contralto                     The lowest female voice

Tenor                           The highest male voice

Baritone                      The medium male voice

Bass                             The lowest male voice


The style we call "operatic" or "classical" singing developed in Europe a few hundred years ago. It is characterized by a large vocal range, as well as an increased volume and projection.  Opera singers can project their voices if they are very quiet or very loud, even without a microphone!  This is the main difference between opera singing and popular singing.  Opera singers must learn to breathe properly, using the natural resonance of their chest cavities to project their voices.


Since operas are written and performed in many different languages, singers must study foreign languages and translate their parts so they understand the words they are singing. The languages in which operas are written will be discussed by the singers. Which ones can you think of?


How do people understand what's going on if it's in a different language?  Well, when the operas were written, they were designed for people who spoke those languages. So, if a librettist wrote the words for an opera performed in Italy, he knew that everyone in the audience would understand it in Italian. These days, it helps if the audience speaks the language they use on the stage, but it is possible to understand the story without speaking the language. That's why there's music--so the audience can hear how the characters feel, and that way people can understand what's going on in the story. More recently, opera companies have started using supertitles to help the audience understand what's happening onstage. Supertitles are translations of the libretto which are projected above the stage.

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