Review: Seattle Opera's Don Quichotte

Woodcut by Hermann-Paul (1929)

Seattle Opera’s latest production, Jules Massenet’s ‘Don Quichotte’, which is based on Cervantes’ epic novel of the same name, is an oddity of the opera world. There are only three main characters (two bassos and a mezzo – extremely odd), not a single big production number, and the opera is also fairly short (only 2½ hours, even counting intermission). Seattle’s current production adds to the strangeness.

In an effort to connect back to the original novel, the entire opera is set amidst enormous books, quills, inkstands, and buttons that suggest Don Quichotte’s library and also that the noble (though insane) hero is living the entire story in his head. It is abstract, but effective, though it was ruined when, at the top of Act III, the sets were turned so that the audience could see the inner workings of the fake books. It served no plot purpose and annoyed me. Furthermore, the effect was ruined in between each act, where the audience was subjected to several minutes of rumbling, banging, and murmuring as the stage hands rearranged the set for the next act. Then the magic returned, as a slide of the novel, with illustrations came into view, re-settling our minds for the action to come.

In the title role, Nicolas Cavallier was unconvincing, though his voice was powerful and beautiful (‘Quand apparaissent les étoiles’ and ‘Seigneur, reçois mon âme’ were truly gorgeous). His primary problem was that he acted far too young, causing both the humor of his age and [SPOILER ALERT] the poignancy of his death to fall flat.

As his long-suffering assistant, Sancho Panza, Richard Bernstein displayed excellent diction, musicality, and again, a lack of humor. He got his laugh once or twice, but did not tap into his inner ham, which would have made for a more interesting performance.

As Quichotte’s lady-love, Dulcinée, Daniela Sindram showed the most theatrical performance, alternating between joy (the aria ‘Quand la femme a vingt ans’ was particularly boisterous) and quiet reflection. Her voice was correct for the part; rich, a little hurt, world-weary, but still alluring enough to charm her suitors. As these four, Alex Mansoori, Marcus Shelton, Jennifer Bromagen, and Emily Clubb performed adequately, though Mr. Shelton’s voice was weak and Ms. Clubb upstaged them all without having to sing a word.

Here I would like to interject and say a few words about the dancing. Sara de Luis, choreographer and principle dancer, has done a lovely job bringing a Spanish flavor to the numbers, and I especially enjoyed her solo at the top of Act IV, where she gracefully moves to the sound of a lone oboe. Unfortunately, she continues to dance through Ms. Sindram’s heart-wrenching ‘Lorsque le temps d’amour a fui,’ causing unnecessary distraction. In this case, the singer is more important.

The libretto of this opera calls for a horse and a donkey to be present in most scenes and Seattle Opera promised to deliver. I was not impressed. The animals made a few cameo appearances, appeared ill at ease (at one point the donkey simply stopped and refused to move – Mr. Bernstein had to leave him onstage), and made lots of noise between acts (see above).

The libretto also calls for a spectacular windmill scene, for which the novel is famous. The scene onstage was less than spectacular. The quill pens began to rotate, forming the sails of the windmill (an inspired idea) but Mr. Cavallier ruined it by running around, stabbing at thin air, and looking lame, rather than funny.

In the end, that was the feeling that remained with me. Though the opera is not a comedy, it certainly needs humor to help move it along (though the pace of the songs is fast, the plotline is not particularly so). I feel that if only the staging had been funnier, and the acting a little more convincing, then this opera would have ranked higher on my list. The music was lovely, the sets inspired (though the costumes were a little drab), and the singing powerful. But it just didn’t make me laugh…

Post by Evan, Teen Advisory Group
Northeast Branch

3 thoughts on “Review: Seattle Opera's Don Quichotte

  1. Wally

    Hmm, what can I say but that I really enjoyed this opera? It’s not one of the greatest or most memorable, but the music is lovely, the singers (I saw the same ones as you) performed very well (especially the female lead), and the whole thing moved along at a good pace. I do think I agree about the horse and donkey, though.

    Reply
  2. Evan, Blog Author

    I’m so glad to know that there are more young adults who enjoy going to (and forming opinions of) opera. I’m really excited for the upcoming Magic Flute!!

    Reply

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