COC ends their season on a high note with a perfect Don Quichotte
Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte blends French opera with a Spanish flair in his interpretation of Miguel de Cervantes’ renowned novel Don Quixote. The tale, originally released in two parts because it was so lengthy, was created into a compact five-act libretto by Henri Caïn. Whether you are familiar with Cervantes’ story or not, the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Don Quichotte is wonderful opera.
Quichotte is about an aging, idealistic but noble knight, his loyal companion Sancho Panza and their spectacular adventures. You cannot help but be captured by this piece. It’s about the love of literature and the transformative beauty that can be found there. It depicts a time where men were gallant and women were damsels. There is something romantic in the idea of wanting life to be more novel, to live out your dreams; to be able to make an ordinary life more spectacular. Quixote’s death represents the end of the Age of Chivalry, the last knight errant.
Italian bass baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto as the aged knight is sheer perfection. He emotes and conveys a variety and depth of feeling in his low register—every nuance of emotion is portrayed through his voice and body language. The colouration he provides in each note fills the opera house with overwhelming consciousness. But, not only is Furlanetto a world class singer, he is also a superb actor. His countenance and the way he flourishes his sword at opponents real and imaginary, the playful, assured way he twirls his hair in anticipation of seeing his beloved Dulcinée, it is all perfectly done.
In act III, Quichotte, about to be murdered by bandits, sings “Seigneur, Reçois Mon Âme” (Lord, receive my soul). Furlanetto’s rendition is enough to move one to tears. His vocal purity and sheer honesty here are incomparable and he speaks directly to your heart. Furlanetto is all encompassing in this role and he makes it his own. He is Quixote.
The second male lead, baritone Quinn Kelsey returns to the COC as the loyal Sancho Panza, Quichotte’s friend and companion to the end. Kelsey embodies this playful character and provides comic relief without being over the top or exaggerated. He doesn’t miss a beat musically or otherwise, throughout.
Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili is a flighty, flirty Dulcinée, loved and idealized by Quichotte. A figment of his imagination in the novel, here she is brought to life as a carefree, much admired but fiercely independent woman. Like her male counterparts, Rachvelishvili shines in this role. We see her saunter across the stage singing about wanting a carefree love in her act IV aria, “Alza! Alza! Ne pensons qu’au plaisir d’aimer” (“Alza! Alza! Think only of the pleasures of love”). Later in the act in Rachvelishvili’s duet with Furlanetto, we hear a different, softer side of Dulcinée. She sings tenderly to Quichotte, the first time we experience this delicate side of her character.
The audience for Don Quichotte get to enjoy Spanish style folk music, with guitar strumming, clicking castanets, stamping feet and clapping hands. The audience is also treated to a beautifully done Flamenco dance featuring an elevated solo female lead with a striking mustard coloured shawl that work together to dazzle and amuse.
Director Linda Brovsky and set designer Donald Eastman created a wonderful world on stage for this production. The stage is set with extremely large books standing upright and on their sides and sometimes with large quills and ink pots. It’s perfect because Cervantes’ Quixote gets lost in literature and lives life as if it were novel.
Kudos go to Brovsky for choosing to incorporate Quixote’s much loved steed Rocinante and Sancho’s burro, simply known as “Donkey” into the opera with a beautiful horse and well groomed donkey, who were very well behaved on stage and with whom all the cast seemed comfortable. The animals are a big part of the novel and play wonderful roles in this performance. It’s enough to make you forgive her for having a less than extraordinary, disappointing in fact, “tilting at windmills” scene.
Christina Poddubiuk’s costumes were perfect and represented the Spanish dress of the times well. Lighting design by Connie Yun was wonderfully done, the shadow play of retreating characters projected on the giant central book was particularly striking.
Debus’ orchestra maintains a chamber music scale throughout as Massenet allowed Quichotte to embody the fanciful while keeping the musical colours light. So although not supremely challenging as a whole, the orchestration acts as a solid foundation to the singers. They don’t miss a beat as they solemnly draw the audience in to the knight’s death knell at the start of Act V, the final scene.
Wanting to right some of the world’s wrongs and make it a better place to be, Don Quixote sees only the best in humanity and life. He found the fantastic in the mundane and lived a life less ordinary.
After Dulcinée’s rejection, you can see, hear and almost feel Quichotte’s pain. Furlanetto was at his finest here, exuding sorrow, his body physically turning inward as he reveals his character’s age and fatigue. Quichotte is disillusioned after this point, but in his final moments, we see that he hasn’t entirely given up hope when he says to Sancho:
“Take that island which is still in my
power to give you. An azure wave
laps at its shores. It is lovely, pleasant…
and it is the island of one’s dreams.”
Quichotte reminds us that no matter what Fate brings, you can have everything you long for in your imagination and dreams, and that, no one can take from you.
Don Quichotte runs from May 9 to 25 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, for tickets and more information please visit the COC website .