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Ensemble

A Special Privilege

Massenet's 'Don Quichotte' in San Diego,
enjoyed by MARIA NOCKIN

 

Jules Massenet (1842-1912), the son of a French ironworker, was born in what is now the city of St Etienne in the Massif Central between Toulouse and Lyon. He studied at the Paris Conservatory, supporting himself by playing percussion at the Théâtre Lyrique and piano at the Café Belleville. At that time his mentor was Ambroise Thomas, the composer of the opera Hamlet. After 1878, Massenet also taught at that same conservatory where one of his pupils was Gustave Charpentier, the composer of Louise.

Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Long before that, in 1862, Massenet won the Prix de Rome which allowed him to hone his craft by studying and composing for three years in Italy. He was a very facile composer and his output of operas was prodigious. Among his most often heard works are: Manon (1884), Werther (1892), Thaïs (1894), Cendrillon (1899), Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (1902) and the work written specifically for the great Russian bass, Fyodor Chaliapin, Don Quichotte (1910).

Joel Sorensen as Rodriguez (left) and Bryan Register as Juan in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Joel Sorensen as Rodriguez (left) and Bryan Register as Juan in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

On 20 February 2009, San Diego Opera presented the third performance of Don Quichotte starring the veteran Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, in the title role. In this opera Massenet worked with Henri Cain, the librettist for Cendrillon, and the result was a poignant version of the exploits of the Spanish would-be knight.

Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Furlanetto had the audience in the palm of his hand as he courted the lovely Dulcinée, Denyce Graves, promised the impossible to Sancho Panza, Eduardo Chama, and fought with windmills. When he finally left this world for a place among the stars, there was not a dry eye to be had. Furlanetto is the kind of artist who holds your attention with his polished legato singing and intense characterization.

Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Director Ian Campbell, the company's general manager, put together a realistic production with solid looking sets. Designed by Ralph Funicello, they were different and most impressive for each of the opera's five acts. The costumes by Missy West and lighting design by Marie Barrett added much to the atmosphere of the piece.

Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Denyce Graves as Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Graves was a truly beautiful Dulcinée who fit the part of a femme fatale. She sang with dark creamy tones, occasionally slurring some of the shorter notes. Chama was a good natured, robust-toned Sancho who created a well-outlined character. The sonorous, relatively new tenor voice of Bryan Register was a welcome addition to this cast. Veteran tenor Joel Sorenson was an energetic Rodriguez. Laura Portune as Pedro and Rebecca Sklaar as Garcias added pleasant soprano tones to the mix.

Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Hervé Blanquart is a native French speaker, and the sound of his lines as the Chief Bandit was a joy to hear. Other bandits: Bill Nolan, Anthony Ballard, Robert Taylor and Joseph Grienenberger were properly nasty, while Samuel Spade and Will Earl Spannenheimer were commendable servants.

Denyce Graves as Dulcinea, flanked by dancers, in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Denyce Graves as Dulcinea, flanked by dancers, in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

Choreographer Nicole Bowie's dances were fun to watch. San Diego Opera's chorus has always been an excellent ensemble and this was no exception. They sang with finesse and appeared to be individuals on stage. Above all, the conducting by Karen Keltner showed her total mastery of the French repertoire. Her work was the element that held this whole performance together. She gave her singers every consideration while drawing transparent playing from the orchestra. Don Quichotte is not an opera we get to hear every season and it was a special privilege to see it performed by this star studded cast.

Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver
Ferrucio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza in San Diego Opera's production of 'Don Quichotte'. Photo © 2009 Cory Weaver

 

Copyright © 1 March 2009 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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