|Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte. Photo: Cory Weaver|
So, yep, the ending isn't quite the same as what you've read in Cervantes' novel, but then the opera is based more on the French play, Le chevalier de la longue figure, rather than on the wittily satiric original novel. It is a short-ish opera at only a bit over 2 hrs (5 acts given with 1 intermission between acts 3 and 4) with Spanish coloring though still thoroughly Romantic Period French music (through-composed, of course). The tragic flavor of the story is kept light by the music that has some wicked comedic scenes by Sancho Panza to keep this opera a good introductory work to newcomers to the genre. There are two harps in the orchestra pit, and they are put to very good use during the show. If you think 'Morning Mood' in Grieg's Peer Gynt is good, you've gotta hear the orchestral dawn that opens the 2nd act of Massenet's Don Quichotte. You can even hear the changing color of the sky as the sun creeps up from the horizon!
|Denyce Graves as Dulcinea. Photo: Cory Weaver|
The show opened with an uneven chorus (they got better as the show rolled on, though) and a rousing dancing scene (bravi to the principal dancers Lisa Solar and Pablo Pizano for their infectiously fiery attitude that kicks the opera off to a good start) with the town populace joining in singing in praise of Dulcinea's beauty. This being my first encounter with this opera, I was caught off guard by some strangely feminine sound coming out of the Dulcinea's four male suitors.... until I realized that 2 of them are actually trouser roles (male roles written for female singers)! Both Laura Portune (Pedro) and Rebecca Skaar (Garcias) fit so well into their male costume that it took hearing their voice to realize that they are actually ladies.
This was also the first time I heard Denyce Graves live. The 45 yrs old American mezzo is in a good physical shape and cuts a fetching figure as the opera's designate seductress, but, strangely enough, the voice seems an odd misfit for the role. I'd think that Dulcinea is dramatically a rather different role than Bizet's Carmen (who wouldn't be caught dead feeling regretful or sorry for any man) and that she has to be able to charm you. Graves' singing, however is better suited to the empathy-free Carmen than to the essentially-kind-at-heart-even-if-hardened-by-the-streets Dulcinea. I don't think she should sound refined but quite some gentleness is called for that just isn't there in this voice. The top register is rather edgy with a prominently pulsing vibrato when sung at mf or louder, the middle is really quite nicely textured and alluring, the bottom... o my... is more harshly masculine than many chorus tenors sharing the stage... and there is no real dramatic use for that sort of timbre in this work, I think. She also had a hard time with the flurries of Spanish pastiche ornamentation in the music. I think she did well with her acting on opening night, though, and there was some really nice soft singing in the final 2 acts.
As Sancho Panza was Eduardo Chama, the Argentinian bass-baritone who lighted up the stage with his aptly comical acting. He under-projected his voice a bit in the first half of the show, but adjusted nicely after the break and proves a good partner for the title role; the grumpily cynic to Quixote's untempered optimism, a lovably rude oaf to his master's vague nobility, and a spark of reality to the don's persistent delusion.
The success or failure of this opera, however, rests on the shoulders of the title role, Don Quichotte, and a broader and more dependable shoulder you won't find today than that of the Italian basso Ferruccio Furlanetto. I don't know how tall he really is, but on the stage he was larger than life and yet still convincing as a frail old man... albeit one with a fresh and sonorous enough voice to pass for someone at least a decade younger than his actual 60 yrs! This Don Quichotte is detached from reality and yet lovably engaging, noble and yet beleaguered all at once. An avid golfer, Furlanetto is probably spry enough off the stage, but his on stage Don Quichotte was so in character all opera long you'd never doubt the uncertainty of his gait and the fragility of his health. His lovely Act I serenade was lyrically sung and his Act III prayer quietly inspiring. He stood out in crowded scenes, and filled the stage in minimalistic ones... The show was Furlanetto's and he was well rewarded with a tumultuous and long standing ovation at the curtain. Bravo maestro! That show was an ace all the way from the tee to the hole!
|Final scene for Don Quichotte. Photo: Cory Weaver|
Times are hard today for performance arts. Getting to hear and see such a good performance of a rarely performed opera now when most theaters are scrambling to ditch novelties for the sure-money-maker standard repertoire operas is a real treat any lover of classical music and singing should not miss. Remaining performances of Massenet's Don Quichotte at the San Diego Civic Theater are: February 17, 20, 22. Even if you can't afford the full ticket price, drop by at the theater an hour before performance time and you might be able to get a rush ticket for only $20!
Production photographs by Cory Weaver are posted courtesy of the San Diego Opera.