Go inside this production of Don Quichotte with engaging articles, opera notes, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
Entrancing in its vitality and profoundly affecting in its humanity, Massenet’s Don Quichotte is a work that deserves to be better known internationally. Taking their cue not so much from Cervantes’s novel as from the French play based on it, the creators of this opera molded a central character who inspires his audience, thanks to the nobility of his ideals and the passion with which he pursues them.
This opera is loaded with atmosphere, and there’s a distinct sensuality about so much of the score. Like Carmen, it presents Spain as envisioned by a Frenchman, which means that Massenet imbues the music with a particular elegance, even in the most dramatic moments. I hope you’ve come to this performance with handkerchiefs in hand, since the final act presents a death scene for the protagonist that will totally wring your heart.
There are quite a few operas in the repertoire that we perform only when the right artist is available. Don Quichotte is one of those operas, with requirements that make it a suitable vehicle for only a select few singing actors. For that reason, Lyric has presented it in only three previous seasons, always with great success – initially with Nicolai Ghiaurov (1974, 1981) and then with Samuel Ramey (1993-94). Now, after an absence of more than two decades, Don Quichotte returns to our stage with another legend of opera, Ferruccio Furlanetto, heading the cast.
After his extraordinary successes at Lyric in the title role of Boris Godunov and as Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra, Ferruccio is now a favorite of our audiences, and it is thrilling indeed for us to welcome him back to the company. He has described Don Quichotte as his favorite role, and to it he brings not simply one of the most impressive voices of the past four decades, but also a lifetime of stage experience. Ferruccio is an artist who can transform even the simple act of walking across a stage into a memorable revelation of character. His matchless dramatic involvement will most certainly illuminate this extraordinary figure in a profoundly moving way.
I’m delighted that Ferruccio’s portrayal will be supported by those of two other exciting European artists, both making their Lyric debuts. Our Dulcinée is Clémentine Margaine, a marvelous young French mezzo-soprano possessing the exceptional vocal and physical allure that any memorable interpreter of this seductive role must command. Clémentine previously captivated me in Berlin when I heard her in a very different role, the demure Marguerite in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust. Lyric’s Sancho is Nicola Alaimo, a very distinguished Italian comic bass-baritone and an exceptionally versatile artist, as much at home in Massenet as he is in the buffo roles of Rossini and Donizetti.
Along with our desire to bring Ferruccio Furlanetto back to Lyric, Don Quichotte has returned to the company this season thanks to the enthusiasm of our music director, Sir Andrew Davis. One of the most exciting aspects of Andrew’s operatic activity internationally during the past decade has been his championing of Massenet’s operas. Having begun this voyage of discovery with Lyric’s production of Thaïs (2002-03), he has subsequently reprised that work in other venues, while also adding Cendrillon and Werther to his repertoire – in each case, with great success.
In a new staging by Lyric’s own Matthew Ozawa utilizing charmingly traditional sets and costumes from San Diego Opera, Don Quichotte will be a rare and special treat for all of us.
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PLACE: In and around a small town in Spain
In a town square, a crowd celebrates the beauty of Dulcinée. When she appears, she confesses that, however admired a young woman may be, there is invariably something missing in her life. Juan and Rodriguez argue over who adores her more, until they hear that Don Quichotte – a knight they have heard is delusional – is about to arrive with his squire, Sancho Panza. They now ride in, to the delight of the crowd. Thrilled with their popularity, Quichotte orders Sancho to empty his pockets for the beggars and children.
After the crowd has dispersed, Quichotte pulls out his mandolin, preparing to serenade Dulcinée, while the exhausted Sancho makes his way to the local inn. The knight’s serenade begins, only to be interrupted by Juan, who jealously warns Quichotte against pursuing Dulcinée. They duel, pausing momentarily so that Quichotte can finish his song but then resume, only to be interrupted again, this time by Dulcinée herself. She praises the beauty and musical mastery of Quichotte’s serenade, chiding Juan for his passionate outbursts. Once alone with Quichotte, Dulcinée tells him that if he truly loves her, he will retrieve her necklace that was stolen the PLACE: In and around a small town in Spain There will be an intermission after Act Three. day before by the bandit Ténébrun – a mission that Quichotte immediately and happily accepts. Dulcinée then leaves with Juan and her other admirers, laughing about how Quichotte amuses her. The determined knight prepares for his quest.
Traveling in a misty countryside, Quichotte sings of Dulcinée, trying with full concentration to think of felicitous rhymes. Sancho begins to suspect that Dulcinée played a joke on them, and that there are, in fact, no bandits. He bitterly laments women’s deceitfulness.
The mist clears, revealing windmills that Quichotte believes are giants, adding to Sancho’s exasperation with his master’s madness. When he attacks the windmills, Quichotte gets caught in one of the sails, leaving him stuck circling through the air.
In the mountains at sunset, Quichotte and Sancho continue their journey. Quichotte remains enthusiastic and resolute, Sancho hesitant but faithfully following his master. They encounter the bandits, who greatly outnumber them, causing Sancho to run away. Quichotte is captured and the bandits are preparing to kill him, but his final prayer deeply moves them. He tells the bandits who he is, expressing his love of mankind and nature, his devotion to duty, and his dedication to his mission. When he asks for Dulcinée’s necklace, the bandits, captivated by his honesty and kindheartedness, gladly yield it. As Sancho comes out of hiding, Quichotte relishes his success and power over the bandits.
At a soirée in the garden of her house, Dulcinée turns away her admirers and ponders the positives and negatives of love. When pursued again by various suitors, she replies that their advances only bore her. She desires instead a different, less ordinary love.
After all retreat inside to supper, Don Quichotte and Sancho arrive, dreaming of the rewards that may await them. When everyone emerges, the victorious duo prove the success of their journey by producing the necklace. Quichotte believes this will secure Dulcinée’s hand in marriage, but she laughs, expressing her contentment with remaining independent and unattached. Attempting to console Quichotte, she explains that by being honest, she is clearly showing her affection for him. Her admirers and other guests mock the sad and disappointed knight. Sancho shames them for berating a man whose only crimes are his kindheartedness and idealism.
On a mountain path, Sancho prays over the sleeping Quichotte, hoping that his master’s gentle heart may find happiness and the realization of his dreams. Quichotte wakes and, knowing that his life is about to end, tells his trusty companion that he deserves everything he dreams of. As Quichotte looks to Jupiter, which shines brightly, he hears Dulcinée singing in the distance and believes her voice is coming from the heavens. He embraces death, leaving Sancho to mourn his departed master.