Thursday, March 17, 2011

Massanet's Don Quichotte

This past weekend I attended my first opera: the Seattle Opera's production of Don Quichotte.

This version is not based on the novel penned by Cervantes, but rather on a play first performed in 1904 and written by the poet Jacques Le Lorrain. This explains the french spelling of the name and why a Spanish story was performed in French, with English subtitles. Massanet began composing the operatic version in 1909 & it debuted the following year.

My familiarity with the story stems not from reading the novel, nor had I even heard of this adaptation, but rather a viewing in my early teens of the Man of La Mancha (1972) starring Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco. I was puzzled therefore, by the portrayal of Dulcinée not as a tavern wench Don Q has imagined as a courtesan, but as an actual courtesan.

Side note: I have always thought Peter O'Toole one of the most handsome men in cinema & adore all the movies I have seen him in, and yet I find the beard he sports in the beginning of this film combined with his piercing blue eyes especially swoon-inducing.

The use of a live horse & donkey in the opera was astonishing. The sets were confounding as they consisted of literally larger-than-life books & quills in ink bottles. The infamous scene where Don Q fights the windmill he perceives is a giant relied on imagination & familiarity with the tale. The humor injected in the script was barely funny, and the love expressed was lackluster. This production seemed to need a mix of extensive knowledge of the story and its history and yet at the same time complete ignorance in order to be thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps they were trying to appeal to the widest audience possible. However, despite this strange mix of good & bad aspects, I did have an enjoyable time. This was due in part I most confess to my pre-opera dinner, the champagne, the wine & the brownie. But on a serious note I do appreciate all the time & effort that goes into a production like this by all the cast, crew, orchestra, & other support staff.

Something that bugged me during this opera was the lack of movement by the 'crowd' on stage. Maybe this stems from the fact that I was raised attending and performing ballet. I look forward to attending Mozart's The Magic Flute in May and finding out if this is a normal trait of opera or if this one was particularly 'stiff'.

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