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Classic Chivalry is Bestowed Upon Don Quichotte

San Diego
San Diego Opera
02/14/2009 -  & February 17, 20, 22, 2009
Jules Massenet: Don Quichotte
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Quichotte), Denyce Graves (Dulcinée), Eduardo Chama (Sancho Pança), Laura Portune (Pédro), Bryan Register (Juan), Rebecca Skaar (Garcias), Joel Sorensen (Rodriguez), Hervé Blanquart (Ténébrun), Bill Nolan, Anthony Ballard, Robert Taylor and Joseph Grienenberger (Four Bandits), Will Earl Spanheimer and Samuel Spade (Two Servants)
Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Paul Harris (Principal Pianist), Timothy Todd Simmons (Chorus Master), Karen Keltner (Conductor)
Ian Campbell (Director), Ralph Funicello (Scenic Designer), Missy West (Costume Designer), Marie Barrett (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Nicola Bowie (Choreographer)

F. Furlanetto & D. Graves (© Corey Weaver)

His works embodied an almost endless array of genres. Nonetheless, for a percipient Frenchman who composed prolifically during the latter half of the 19th century it is ironic to see that his operas are not performed in our country on the same level of frequency as on his native soil. When the name Jules Massenet comes to mind, one quickly and distinctly associates his talents with the works of Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). Recently we’ve seen movement in America to revisit his genius, citing The Metropolitan Opera’s exceptional production of Thaïs (1894) last year starring Renée Fleming. But one particular opera of Massenet’s that surfaces here with relative infrequency despite its well known title character is that of Don Quichotte (1910). The comédie heroïque, loosely based on the Miguel de Cervantes novel, Don Quixote (1605, 1615), returns to San Diego Opera after an absence of 40 years.

This new production under the helm of veteran General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell cleverly brackets the beginning of each of the five acts with a quote from the Cervantes literary work as a short narration depicting the upcoming scene, thoughtfully projected on a scrim filled with moving clouds, while Karen Keltner’s robust and effervescent orchestra plays the exquisite entr’acte music or opening bars of each musical segment. In an earlier interview with Dr. Nicolas Reveles, host of San Diego’s Opera Talk!, Ms. Keltner personally expresses her enthusiasm and eager anticipation in conducting the score. It certainly shows.

Act I, a square in front of Dulcinée’s house, begins with a bang. The audience immediately witnesses a delightfully tasteful pallet of burgundies, reds, beiges and browns that clothe the townspeople while Nicola Bowie’s choreography of flamenco dancers (prélude et danse: “Alza! Alza! Alza!”) hits us with breathtaking snap precision alongside Keltner’s vibrantly clicking castanets. Returning superstar Denyce Graves soon appears on the balcony as the lovely Dulcinée and begins her acrobatic and tricky aria, “Quand la femme a vingt ans, la majesté suprême” in her dusky and sultry voice. Despite initial difficulties in the beginning, she quickly regains control and moves ahead full steam in assured fashion with particularly delightful singing and acting in Act IV’s “C’est ma destinée”. She is the epitome of the Dulcinée we yearn to see with a ravishing voice while clothed in a beautiful azure silk dress.

The evening, however, is dominated by Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto who sings the title role, Don Quichotte, in the most appropriate fashion. Mr. Furlanetto is the perfect knight errant from La Mancha. Brilliantly displayed is Missy West’s elaborate armor and Steven W. Bryant’s realistically yet unencumbered makeup creation, Ferruccio Furlanetto brings the audience to their feet at the close of the final curtain, interpreting the character with understated grandeur and conservative appeal. The voice is splendidly dignified and the actions are nuanced with the right amount of flair. Mr. Furlanetto never overacts the role.

Flanking the chivalrous crusader is his long suffering companion, Sancho Pança, sung by Argentinean bass-baritone Eduardo Chama who, again, displays the same degree of tasteful restraint by providing comic relief yet demonstrating a pinch of pathos that brings the opera’s completion to a tearful and moving climax. Of specific commendation is his marvelous and moving rendition of his aria, “Riez, allez, riez du pavre idéologue” where he states his case against the townspeople’s mockery of his illustrious master. It is thoughtful. It is tasteful.

Don Quichotte is an opera that poses logistical challenges in scenery changes from act to act, yet this does not deter Scenic Designer Ralph Funicello from accomplishing the impossible, transforming each act without any longueur. Acts I and IV are constructed in well apportioned Spanish architecture while Act II is the most awe inspiring spectacle featuring an array of moving windmills on stage as well as projected on a front scrim to give a sense of immensity and depth as Don Quichotte’s “enemies”. Although the act itself lasts no longer than fifteen minutes its scope of artistry is gigantic and captivating.

One of the most poignant spots in the production appears in Act V with a culmination of all artistic disciplines. In it we see Marie Barrett’s magical starry filled night sky, along with Ralph Funicello’s simple yet striking set, permeated with the tender touches of Karen Keltner’s romantically moving orchestration and solo violin.

The story line would not be complete without citing the talents of the four suitors, Pédro, Juan, Garcias and Rodriguez sung by Laura Portune, Bryan Register, Rebecca Skaar and Joel Sorensen, respectively, as they vie for the love of Dulcinée and sing separately and in ensemble with the right amount of color to make this a complimentary touch to Massenet’s score. So, too, is the ring of bandits spearheaded by Ténébrun, with verbal dialogue and recitative.

The success of Don Quichotte requires a requisite of three talented individuals and through the gifts of Mr. Furlanetto, Ms. Graves, and Mr. Chama this “Impossible Dream” is made possible. Don Quichotte is a timeless story with thought provoking ideals and lilting music. It is a story that entertains the young at heart and never tires with the old. If there is a work that deserves special recognition and commendation, it is Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte for this rare masterpiece will be hard to find performed in the years to come. It is a wonderful night at the opera in every aspect imaginable, so treat yourself to this delight, and you, too, will fill your soul with an abundance of memories for a lifetime.

Read Ferruccio Furlanetto's interview

Christie Grimstad



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