Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Seattle Opera: Don Quichotte (Massenet)

Recommended Posts

I just got back from the matinee performance of Massenet's "Don Quichotte" (silver cast) following last night's performance (gold cast). In the post-performance Q&A, General Director Speight Jenkins said it was the first opera he produced without having seen it; he substituted it when another opera with a lead-bass role for John Relyea fell through.

It was beautifully directed, with some of the most interesting and natural crowd work I've seen on the opera stage. Kudos to Beth Kirchhoff and her chorus and the small group of dancers for making this happen, and they sounded especially fine this afternoon from the second tier (top section). The sets were based on director Linda Brovsky's idea of using books as the central design idea instead of the standard naturalistic settings. Designer Donald Eastman created a set with huge volumes, two tall ones leaning on each other creating a passageway, several other upright volumes, and several horizontal stacks, one creating a large staircase and doubling as a dance stage and the other becoming Dulcinee's porch. Two large inkwells with giant feather pens were prominent set pieces for a couple of scenes, and the windmill projections at the end of the second part were made of the same striped feathers. A horse and a donkey were also prominent -- according to Jenkins, Brovsky wanted a realistic contrast to the book set -- and Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza made some wonderful entrances on them, including for DQ's solo bow after the opera. An interesting detail was that in the scene where Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza have infiltrated the bandits' camp, the backs of the books, and therefore their construction, were visible, and the show or camouflage side faced upstage.

Each part began with the front scrim down and a folio of a book shown, with a quote from the latest English translation of "Don Quixote" on the left side in giant script and a print of Don Quichotte or Don Q and Sancho Panza on the right. One scrim had a flickering flame as it faded, another either rain or tears, and the final quote faded to dropout type. Connie Yun's lighting design was stunning, from the tableaus that looked as beautifully lit from the balcony as they were from fairly close in gallery upper to the nuanced lighting of the exterior scenes.

On paper the first cast, with John Relyea in the title role, Malgorzata Walewska as Dulcinee, and Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza looked golden, but I have my reservations. I don't love Relyea's voice: I hear a wide vibrato in the lower register and a rumble rather than a firmly resonant sound. (His upper register is clear and lovely.) I loved what he was trying to accomplish dramatically, shaping his scenes quite poignantly. Walewska has a very clean, steady sound, but until the marriage proposal scene in the fourth part, when she really opened up her voice, I heard very little color or changing dynamics: it was like shoes that had been polished but not buffed. If she was the most interesting woman in this village, it must have been an awfully dull village. Only Chama met my expectations, with a solid sound, fine acting, and agile movement.

From the moment Daniela Sindram sang her first note as Dulcinee this afternoon, it was another experience entirely: she sang with a great range of color and dynamics, with shading from big fireworks to the gentlest of tones, and a great deal of agility and imagination. She was a superb actress, responding both vocally and physically to the other singers, and she moved with grace. She was also a deft comedienne.

Nicolas Cavallier sang Don Quichotte, and it was interesting to see how for most of the opera, he and Relyea took almost opposite approaches musically and dramatically. Where Relyea was a gentle dreamer, Cavallier was forceful. In the scene after Don Quichotte fought the windmills and collapsed with exhaustion, when Sancho Panza helped Don Quichotte onto his own donkey, Relyea pulled himself up, where Cavallier was slumped over, almost broken. Relyea's interpretation was very poignant. Cavallier's was, for me, more true dramatically: the declamatory dreamers invoke more ridicule and backlash than the gentler ones. Musically the role was written for Chaliapin, and from the beginning of Cavallier's performance I could recognize a Chaliapin role. It was also clear that both Sindram and Cavallier were singing in French, which was a problem with their counterparts in the gold cast (but not with Chama's Sancho Panza.)

Richard Bernstein was an excellent Sancho Panza in the silver cast, a combination of superb acting, singing, and great comic timing. He and Cavallier had a stronger dramatic dynamic going between them.

Among the smaller roles, Marcus Shelton was a standout. He has a light tenor voice. As a former Seattle Opera Young Artist, he's probably too young to be at full strength, and I wasn't sure his voice would carry as strongly to the top of the house, but I was very happy to be wrong. Alex Mansouri, another former Young Artist, had very good stage presence as the roguish Juan.

Sara de Luis is renowned in Seattle as a Flamenco dancer. She choreographed a few short passages and two extended passages, one in the first act, for herself, her partner Raul Salcedo, and several other male dancers, and a beautiful solo in the fourth part, in which she performed before, during, and after Dulcinee's big aria. (Her shoes sounded nail-less.) In the Q&A a woman in the audience noted her disappointment with the men, and, not unexpectedly, Jenkins defended the choice of Salcedo, who has an strong resume. I agree with the woman: there are a number of excellent Flamenco dancers in the Seattle area who project much more strongly. While I was not impressed so much by Salcedo's dancing, I was by his acting: he's a member of the ensemble and has to flirt repeatedly with Dulcinee and be chastised by de Luis' gypsy, and he did it in a very natural way.

The music was written at the end of the 19th century, and on the surface it sounds simple and early Romantic, but that is deceptive. There is so much color and transparency in the score, and the orchestra, which doesn't get to play a lot of French music apart from Bizet and a bit of Ravel and Debussy for the Seattle Symphony, outdid itself for conductor Carlo Montanaro. It's music for which I think resistance is counterproductive: it's not Verdi, or Puccini, or Wagner. Its not even "Manon": its greatest hits aren't very well known. But once accepted, it's like a balm. I'm very grateful this opera was produced.

Link to comment

Thank you!

I do have a correction: I learned tonight through one of my Flamenco teachers in Vancouver that Mr. Salcedo has trained in many facets of Spanish dancing, including classical Spanish dance, as well as Flamenco, and from my description of what I saw, what Ms. de Luis choreographed was much more in the classical Spanish tradition than Flamenco. To criticize his dancing style is like criticizing a Paul Taylor dancer for dancing Paul Taylor and not Petipa, and for that I apologize.

Link to comment

As one who doesn't know the difference, myself, I appreciate the clarification. I didn't know you took flamenco lessons; sorry if you mentioned it before and I missed it. It's off the topic of Don Q, but I would love to know more about the differences between Spanish classical and flamenco if you have the time and inclination to write on the topic. I guess Other Dance would be the better forum, though. Just a thought. :)

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...