Girl of the Golden West Study Guide


 Girl of the Golden West

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

Opera Production

Opera is created by the combination of myriad art forms. First and foremost are the actors who portray characters by revealing their thoughts and emotions through the singing voice. The next very important component is a full symphony orchestra that accompanies the singing actors and actresses, helping them to portray the full range of emotions possible in the operatic format. The orchestra performs in an area in front of the singers called the orchestra pit while the singers perform on the open area called the stage. Wigs, costumes, sets and specialized lighting further enhance these performances, all of which are designed, created, and executed by a team of highly trained artisans.

The creation of an opera begins with a dramatic scenario crafted by a playwright or dramaturg who alone or with a librettist fashions the script or libretto that contains the words the artists will sing. Working in tandem, the composer and librettist team up to create a cohesive musical drama in which the music and words work together to express the emotions revealed in the story. Following the completion of their work, the composer and librettist entrust their new work to a conductor who with a team of assistants (repetiteurs) assumes responsibility for the musical preparation of the work. The conductor collaborates with a stage director (responsible for the visual component) in order to bring a performance of the new piece to life on the stage. The stage director and conductor form the creative spearhead for the new composition while assembling a design team which will take charge of the actual physical production.
Set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, wig and makeup designers and even choreographers must all be brought “on board” to participate in the creation of the new production. The set designer combines the skills of both an artist and an architect using “blueprint” plans to design the actual physical set which will reside on the stage, recreating the physical setting required by the storyline. These blueprints are turned over to a team of carpenters who are specially trained in the art of stage carpentry. Following the actual building of the set, painters following instructions from the set designers’ original plans paint the set. As the set is assembled on the stage, the lighting designer works with a team of electricians to throw light onto both the stage and the set in an atmospheric as well as practical way. Using specialized lighting instruments, colored gels and a state of the art computer, the designer along with the stage director create a “lighting plot” by writing “lighting cues” which are stored in the computer and used during the actual performance of the opera.

During this production period, the costume designer in consultation with the stage director has designed appropriate clothing for the singing actors and actresses to wear. These designs are fashioned into patterns and crafted by a team of highly skilled artisans called cutters, stitchers, and sewers. Each costume is specially made for each singer using his/her individual measurements. The wig and makeup designer, working with the costume designer, designs and creates wigs which will complement both the costume and the singer as well as represent historically accurate “period” fashions.

As the actual performance date approaches, rehearsals are held on the newly crafted set, combined with costumes, lights, and orchestra in order to ensure a cohesive performance that will be both dramatically and musically satisfying to the assembled audience.


Aria (noun) a melody, from opera or oratorio sung by one singer.

Bravo (interjection) Italian, meaning “well done,” used for a single male performer.  “Brava” is used for a single female, and “bravi” is used for more than two people singing together.

Conductor (noun)  the person who leads the singers and orchestra.

Ensemble (noun) a musical passage or piece of music in which more than one performer of equal importance participates at the same time.  A group of musicians.

Libretto (noun) the text (words) of an opera.

Librettist (noun) the person who writes the words for an opera.

Opera (noun) a play told through singing.

Recitative (reh-sit-ah-teev) English adaptation from the Italian recitativo (noun) a type of speech-like singing that allows a degree of rhythmic freedom in performance. It is generally accompanied by orchestra, or harpsichord, but can be accompanied by other instruments capable of harmonic support, such as harp or guitar.

Repertoire (rep-er-twar) French (noun) the body of literature that is available for performance.

Score (noun) the written music of a musical composition, such as an opera



                Casting for Rimrock Opera’s Girl of the Golden West

Ashby-Wells Fargo agent-bass-Dennis Rupp (from Burbank, CA)

Handsome-baritone-Christopher Holmes (from Salt Lake City)

Billy Jackrabbit-a Red Indian-bass- Bret Weston (from Billings)

Castro-a member of Ramirrez’s gang-bass-Nathan Raschkow (from Billings)

Dick Johnson a.k.a. Ramirrez-a bandit-tenor-Randy Locke (from Sarasota, FL)

Happy-baritone-Dan Miller (from Billings)


Harry-tenor-Jess Muñoz (from New York, NY)

Jack Rance-sheriff-baritone-Jason Detwiler (from Boise, ID)

Jake Wallace-a minstrel-baritone-Aaron Pagniano (from Billings)

Joe-tenor-Josh Shaw (originally from Billings, coming from Burbank, CA)

Larkens-bass-Robert Aaron Taylor (from San Diego, CA)

Minnie-keeper of the Saloon-soprano-Paula Goodman Wilder (from San Francisco, CA)

Nick-bartender at the Saloon-baritone-Gennard Lombardozzi (from New Haven, CT)

Pony Express riders-Brooke Newell, Christina Pezzarossi, Megan Dolezal & Tessa Shelton (all from Billings)

Sid-baritone-Igor Vieria (from San Francisco, CA)

Card Dealer-non-singing role-Robert Port (from Billings)

Sonora-baritone-Christopher Holmes (coming from Salt Lake City, UT)

Trin-tenor-Scott Wichael (coming from Kansas City, KS)

Wowkle-mezzo-soprano-Nancy Downing (from Billings)

Conductor-Andy Anderson (from Kansas City, KS)

Stage Director-Douglas Nagel (from Billings)

Stage Manager-Amy Logan (from Billings)

Rehearsal Pianist-Sandi Rabas (from Billings)

Costume Designer-Jill Port (from Billings)

Set Designer-Jean-François Revon (from Oakland, CA)

Set Construction-American Musical Theater (San José, CA)

The Opera’s background

After the success of Madame Butterfly, Puccini spent several years looking for a subject for his next opera. He considered a number of stories, including Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but remained unsatisfied. During this period, he was also traveling extensively to attend performances of his works worldwide. In 1907, he was in New York to see the American premieres of Manon Lescaut and Madame Butterfly. While in the city, he attended a performance of The Girl of the Golden West, a play by David Belasco, who had also written the play on which Madame Butterfly, was based. Excited by the idea of doing another opera on an “exotic” subject, he decided this would be his next opera.

A number of circumstances interrupted the composition of The Girl of the Golden West. His librettists didn’t work quite as quickly as he would have liked, slowing his progress. In addition, his family encountered a personal tragedy when a servant girl committed suicide in response to the unfounded jealousy of Puccini’s wife. However, three years after his trip to New York, Fanciulla was completed.

Musically, Girl of the Golden West is one of Puccini’s most innovative pieces. To an extent not seen in his earlier operas, he experiments with new harmonies and orchestration techniques. The work presents a challenge to both performers and directors in the sheer complexity of the onstage action. More so even than Tosca, this opera requires that its lead singers also be first-rate actors.

Girl of the Golden West was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 10, 1910, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. The New York audience received the piece with great enthusiasm.

Original Set Design

Designer Jean-François Revon has been hired by Rimrock Opera to design and oversee building of a new, original set design of the opera.



Act One – The Saloon

Act Two – Minnie’s Cabin

Act Three – Camp Street

 Diversity and Conflict in the California Gold Rush

Following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the world rushed in. Eager gold seekers headed south from Oregon; north from Mexico, Chile, and Peru; east from China and the islands of the Pacific; and west from every state in the union and countries throughout Europe. This richness of intersecting frontiers produced the most ethnically diverse region in the nation.

Gold-rush California also became a region noted for its ethnic conflict. Frustrated ambitions of unsuccessful gold seekers were vented in an almost unending round of ethnic hostilities. Scapegoats were eagerly sought, identified with lightning speed, and dispatched with little regret.

Native American miners were forced to abandon the diggings, and many fell victim to genocidal campaigns. The destruction of the ranchos dispossessed members of the old rancho elite, and Latino miners endured violent opposition as well as discriminatory taxes. French miners, derided as Keskydees, bitterly complained when they too were compelled to pay extra fees as foreign miners. Hawaiians in the gold fields were commonly called Kanakas. Chinese immigrants came seeking their fortune in the fabled land known as Gam Saan. African Americans were a small minority in gold-rush California and they too were bounded by unfair laws and practices.

Native American Miners

The discovery of gold brought hundreds of thousands of newcomers onto the lands of the California Indians. The native people responded in a variety of ways. Many retreated into the interior as their homelands were invaded by the flood of gold seekers. Others, especially among the Miwok and Yokuts in the Central Valley, raided the settlements of the newcomers for horses and other livestock.

Many native people joined in the rush for gold and became miners themselves. Colonel Richard B. Mason estimated in 1848 that more than half the gold diggers during the first year of the gold rush were Indians. Miwok prospectors and miners, for instance, helped open the extraordinary riches of the southern mines.  At first, many Indian miners worked as laborers for white Californians, often in a state of peonage similar to their status on the Mexican ranchos. Others labored as independent agents and traded their gold to white merchants for a variety of goods. In the early days, California Indians were unaware of the true value of the gold they were trading, and the whites competed with one another in cheating them. A common practice was to trade glass beads to Indian miners for gold, weight for weight. But soon the native miners developed a finer appreciation of the white man’s high regard for gold and became increasingly able and sophisticated traders themselves.

The Native American population of California declined from an estimated 150,000 in 1846 to 30,000 by 1870. Most of the decline was caused by disease and malnutrition, but thousands of Indians died in genocidal campaigns carried out by white Californians. Miners and ranchers banded together for the express purpose of killing Indians. These men roamed through the hills and valleys of northern California, pushing out the Nisenan Maidu and the Miwok, who lived in the heart of the mother lode.

Frontier communities raised subscriptions to pay bounties for Indian scalps and Indian heads. In addition to such local remuneration, the state legislature authorized payments of expense claims totaling over $1 million. The federal government subsequently reimbursed the state. Thus the process of extermination went forward with the financial support of local, state, and federal governments. It was legalized and subsidized murder on a mass scale.

California was officially a free state. The state constitution of 1849 was very clear about this: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever be tolerated in this state.” Nevertheless thousands of African Americans like Biddy Mason were brought to California by their masters and kept in bondage. When Mason’s owner attempted to take her back to the slave-holding south, a California judge ruled that she and her family were “entitled to their freedom and are free forever.”

Early Mining Methods

Miners in California used a variety of methods to extract gold. The simplest method was panning. Squatting by the side of a river or a stream, the miner filled a shallow, flat-bottomed pan with what he hoped would be “pay dirt.” Then he held the pan under the surface of the water and swirled it about with a gently rotating motion for several minutes. With one side of the pan held lower than the other, the water washed away the lighter dirt and sand. The heavier gold particles-if any-would remain in the bottom of the pan.

Panning was a tedious and back-breaking job. Miners improved on this simple method by using a rocker, an oblong box without a top, several feet in length, mounted on rockers like a child’s cradle and placed in a sloping position. Pay dirt was shoveled into the rocker, followed by buckets of water. As the miner vigorously rocked the cradle back and forth, the muddy water rushed through and the gold was trapped behind “riffles” or cleats in the bottom of the rocker.

Further improvements appeared by the end of 1849. The “long tom” was an open wooden trough about twelve feet long. Water and dirt flowed through the tom more rapidly and in greater quantity than could be handled by a rocker. The long tom later evolved into a sluice, a series of riffle boxes fitted together, sometimes as much as several hundred feet in length.

Perry W. McAdow and Billings, Montana
Perry W. McAdow (Bud) was among the Billings’ area first settlers and real estate dealers. He is probably best known of the Montana gold mining men. He arrived in Fort Owen [Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana] in July, 1861. He went on to Portland, and returned to Montana with Major Owens in the fall. Later in December he and his future partner A. S. Blake started prospecting for gold in the dry gulches near Deer Lodge. At Gold Creek they found gold, but cold weather and snow forced them to seek Fort Owen for shelter. Early in the spring of 1862 they returned and found placer gold at Pioneer Gulch (the first in Montana), causing a flood of prospectors to come to the site in droves of wagon trains.   Next he moved to Grasshopper Creek which in turn led to Bannack and Bill Fairweather’s May 26, 1863, discovery of gold at Alder Gulch, richest gold strike in the state.  Perry subsequently filed mining claims at Fort Maginnis, near the town of Maiden [now a ghost town]. His arrival in the Clark’s Fork Valley area is not documented. Before Coulson was named as a town, he operated his store (also referred to as “Coulson”) from a tent presumably on his property, as did a few others until after September 1877. The Nez Perce Indians, retreating toward Canada, burned a saloon tent, near his store, at that time.

He purchased 457.86 acres of land (Desert Claim Land identified later by land surveyors in 1878) south of the Coulson area (Josephine Park – City Water Plant sites, directly south of John Alderson’s land), whose property was used for creation of Coulson. He did claim ownership of these lands prior to the arrival of Northern Pacific railroad and had tried unsuccessfully, along with John Alderson and John Shock, to sell their land to the railroad at an exorbitant price of $30,000 for establishment of a permanent town in Coulson, which was later platted in 1881 by Alderson. He located his land in the summer of 1876, when the railroad surveyors were creating boundary lines.

After Billings was created, McAdow was asked to sell about 300 acres to support Billings. This was later known as “McAdow Subdivision.” The attempt by Alderson to create a town out of Coulson failed, and the town of Billings was created adjacent to it. On June 22, 1885 he granted right-of-way to the Billings Water Power Company to install pipes and ditches on his land. The ditch connected to the Yellowstone River was called Coulson Ditch. Perry was operating a sawmill, with virtually all of his output devoted to the railroad’s needs. The arrival date of the sawmill has not been identified, but had to have been before September 1877.

When Billings became a real town, Perry created a streetcar connection between Coulson and Billings. He operated two horse-drawn coaches, and offered patrons ‘FREE BEER’ at his Coulson store in exchange for the two-bit ride. This track ran from the railroad at 27th Street down to 6th Avenue South, then northeast to the town’s Main Street.  Perry, along with T. S. Wadsworth and George B. Hulme (originally from New York City), formed the “Billings Street Car Company” on 25 May 1882. The organization of the company took place on the 20th. Its function was to serve residents and merchants with trade and passage in the City of Billings. This line was the first in Montana, and ran from 27th Street & Minnesota Avenue south to 6th Street, then northwest to where the Conoco refinery is located, and into Coulson’s Main Street.  The total distance was two miles. The town of Coulson lay adjacent to Billings, and was only a few blocks actual travel to its edges. Extensive lines were later created that essentially created the bus line routes as currently in use. Perry McAdow and Fred H. Foster jointly owned the McAdow store, founded in 1881 and placed on the Coulson land at the north edge of the tract. This partnership lasted until 1883. Joining them was Jules Breuchard, who bought supplies for Perry on his trip east in 1881 to get married. (Both Jules and Fred were employed by the NPR at the time.) The local mail carrier, Billy Needham, upon completing his last trip with the Lavina stage made arrangements to go back to live with his mother in the east. He pulled off his coat in McAdow’s store and accidentally dropped a pistol he carried in a pocket. The gun went off wounding him in the leg, and he died a month later.

Perry created the McAdow Subdivision from his land, with Cleve & Wadsworth as agents specializing in selling his lots. In 1886 he quit the area and moved to Judith Gap, where he mined a little and operated yet another sawmill. He struck it good, and established the “Spotted Horse” mine that gave him his eventual fortune that had eluded him earlier in Coulson and Billings.

 Rimrock Opera wishes to thank the following major sponsors who make this production possible:

Henrietta Johnstone

Horizon Airlines

Laurel Ford, Steve Solberg

West Park Plaza, LePriel White

ABCO Supply, Inc., Gail Hein, Susie Loran

Billings Cultural Partners

Billings Gazette; Jaci Webb, Maureen Turpin, Dan Berry,

Melanie Fabrizius, Stacy Just

Country Inn & Suites

Billings Outpost

Q2 Television

Community Seven TV

Domino’s Pizza

Granny’s Attic

James W. Thompson & Staff

KEMC-91.7 FM Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana State University-Billings

OZ Fitness, Charlie Coe, Manager

Pierce Leasing

PostNet, Kelly & Carol Sanders

Rattlesnake Valley Press, Dennis Kern, Photographer & Web Manager

Rocky Mountain College

PPL Montana

Smith Funeral Chapels, Inc.

Dude Rancher Lodge

Big Sky Airlines

Spotlight Productions, Anne Gauer, archive videographer

Buchanan Capitol