THE KNIGHT ERRANT ADDRESSES ALL WRONGS IN LYRIC’S “DON QUICHOTTE’
REVIEWED BY: ROBERT SPHATT
Massenet’s Don Quichotte has never quite established itself in the opera repertoire, not because of any deficit in the music, but because it’s not immediately evident exactly what it is dramatically; is it a comedy or tragedy or some more subtle blend of the two? The last option seems to reflect the usual approach to it, which makes it a hard sell for audiences. I have always enjoyed seeing the musical theater version – especially the performances by Chicagoan James Harms – and then it all creeps up on me in that final scene and I am reminded of the don‘s Haunting death…and it IS a tragedy! Take the score for example; a fine work of French composition but nothing to do with Spain. The music is exquisite and very delicate and never really takes off until Act IV of 5 acts when the mezzo lets loose and sings and acts up a storm!
Don Quichotte was inspired by the greatest of all Spanish novels and is the story of an eccentric idealist and self-proclaimed knight errant who tilts at windmills and fights for the honor of his lady Dulcinée. The opera combines Massenet’s fabulously atmospheric music with his own matchless theatrical flair to conjure energy and spirit, beauty, and hope.
Despite its five acts, there is under two hours of music in the opera and the action seemed to fly by! Massenet’s Don Quichotte may stand a rung or two below his better known operas, such as Manon and Werther, yet there is plenty to recommend here. In love with Lucy Arbell who sang Dulcinée at the first performance, Massenet identified personally with his comic-heroic protagonist. He was then 67 and died just two years later from acute rheumatism. Raoul Gunsberg, director of the Opera de Monte Carlo, was searching for a vehicle for the internationally celebrated Feodor Chaliapin and commissioned Massenet to compose this opera for Chaliapin and his opera company. Yet, while Don Quichotte ended up being more than a star vehicle, its longevity owes much to the fascination inspired by its title character. Since this opera first appeared some of the world’s most famous basses and bass-baritones have fallen in love with the role which requires charisma as well as vocal stamina. It requires a larger-than-life presence to realize the full profundity of Don Quichotte’s final moment.
Legendary Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto has plenty of power and he’s a terrific actor. He excels in comedy and convincingly establishes the tricky balance between the Don’s frail dignity and absurdity, and he makes him a character that’s not only sympathetic but believable. Clementine In her Lyric debut, Clementine Margaine, one of the most acclaimed among the new generation of French singers, sings the role of Dulcinée to much success! This lady has a lovely yet strong and powerful voice that beautifully filled the cavernous Civic Opera House with passion and frustration. In her Act IV scenes – the opera really took off thanks to her highly developed and skillful acting abilities.
Nicola Alaimo sang the role of Sancho in his Lyric debut. He possesses a strong, richly colored bass-baritone voice but I believe he really wants to play the romantic leading roles. He misses the mark with the comedy so essential in this role of Sancho and it should have been so easy for him because the comedy is all in his lines. Alas, if he would shed many a pound he would be able to approach the roles he wants to play and be a success in.
The quartet of Dulcinée’s suitors was made up of Diana Mewman, Lindsay Metzger, Alec Carlson and Jonathan Johnson. Bradley Smoak, the Bandit Chief needs to be recognized in a role which is so easy to parody; he did not and made the role his own. Matthew Ozawa was Stage Director. He brings a combination of opera and musical theatre to the Lyric’s stage and it all works so well. I was studying the chorus and each person in it had a different character each with separate desires even though they were all singing the same music. Mr. Ozawa had his charges full of energy and life and this was refreshing to be a part of. Lyric needs to bring the director back regularly.
In his Lyric debut, set designer Ralph Funicello creates the windmills via video projections overlaying the stage’s windmills. There is an added touch at the end of the turning windmill wheels seeming to float weightlessly into space. All five sets recalled Italian opera. The scenes of the villages were especially well designed and colored and gave the audience a true feeling of being on a Mediterranean coastal village. Costume designer Missy West also is making her Lyric debut in this production. These are lush and period-appropriate garb that more than work.
Sir Andrew Davis conducts in a production that is as gorgeous to see as it is to hear. His tempos are lively and bright, well balanced, very clean, and clearly detailed. Evergreen Michael Black was Chorus Master and again delivered a first class product to Lyric Opera’s audiences.
The sound of Andrew Davis’s orchestra is well balanced, very clean, and clearly detailed.
Overall, this exemplary performance makes the most compelling case for Don Quichotte as an opera that deserves a place in the more standard repertoire.
Now through December 7
Monday, Nov. 28 at 7.30pm/ Thursday, Dec 1 at 7.30pm/Sun, Dec 4 at 2pm/and closing on Wed, Dec 7 at 7pm.
Lyric Opera at the Civic Opera House
Address: 20 N Wacker Dr Ste 860, Chicago, IL 60606
Phone: (312) 827-5600