The Knight of Rueful Countenance returns to the Mariinsky Theatre
The Knight of Rueful Countenance, the heroic dreamer Don Quichotte is returning to the Mariinsky The atre. Don Quichotte is one of French composer Jules Massenet’s late operas and it was commissioned by Raoul Gunsbourg, of the Opéra de Monte Carlo specially for Fyodor Chaliapin. And whatever the composer’s contemporaries may have thought of this opera, the singer himself always adored it and the role of Don Quichotte became one of the ones he loved most in his entire repertoire. The premiere of the opera took place on 6 February 1910 at the Opéra de Monte Carlo. Already on 12 November 1910, the Russian premiere took place at the Bolshoi The atre in Moscow, where Chaliapin not only performed the title role but directed the production as well. Later came Paris, Nürnberg, London and the USA. in 1919 the opera was staged at the Mariinsky The atre (Alexander Khessin conducting with Chaliapin as stage director).
Massenet’s Don Quichotte has never been absent for long from theatre playbills. As it was created for Fyodor Chaliapin, however, the opera requires equally brilliant performers and so it is only staged when a singer worthy of the role comes along. One such is, without question, is the outstanding Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, who has already performed the role of Don Quichotte in St Petersburg in a concert version of the opera at the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky The atre. Don Quichotte with Ferruccio Furlanetto, the Mariinsky Chorus and Orchestra and soloists under the baton of Valery Gergiev was released on the Mariinsky label. The recording was named “Disc of the Week” by BBC Radio 3 and “Opera Choice of the Month” by BBC Music Magazine.
Furlanetto admits that the role of Don Quichotte is one of his favourites: “Don Quichotte is close to my heart. Everyone, albeit for three hours in their lives, should become such a person, someone who loves everything around them... He loves nature, the sun, the light, the air, people, animals... And this love is expressed very poetically, so I say that in an ideal world this is what, ideally, people should be like.”
The opera is being staged by director Yannis Kokkos, a renowned French theatre designer and stage director. Fame first came to Kokkos as a production designer, having worked together with stage director Antoine Vitez. As a stage director, Kokkos has worked on productions of operas by Wagner, Richard Strauss, Gluck, Berlioz, Mozart and Rossini at the Teatro alla Scala, the Théâtre de la Monnaie, the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, the Théâtre du Châtelet and Welsh National Opera. Inspired by St Petersburg, the stage director sees features in Don Quichotte similar to those of Prince Myshkin.
The lead roles are being rehearsed by Anna Kiknadze, Yekaterina Sergeyeva and Elena Tsvetkova (the Beautiful Dulcinée), Ferruccio Furlanetto, Askar Abdrazakov, Ilya Bannik and Mikhail Kolelishvili (Don Quichotte), Andrei Serov and Andrei Spekhov (Sancho Pança), Lyudmila Dudinova, Eleonora Vindau and Maria Bayankina (Pedro), Yulia Matochkina, Irina Shishkova and Regina Rustamova (Garcia), Carlos D’Onofrio, Andrei Ilyushnikov and Nikolai Yemtsov (Rodriguez) and Dmitry Koleushko, Alexander Shagun and Alexander Trofimov (Juan). The Stage Director and Set Designer is Yannis Kokkos, the Costume Designers Yannis Kokkos and Paola Mariani and the Lighting Designer Michael Bauer.
The Musical Director is Valery Gergiev.
The story of Don Quichotte was beautifully suited to Massenet's talents, strongest in creating exotic color, carefully blending pathos and comedy, and depicting charming sirens who can twist men around their dainty fingers. (This last was allowed in this opera by the transformation of Dulcinйe into a seductive courtesan instead of a farm girl whose charms exist solely in Quichotte's eyes.) It has long been a star vehicle for basses and bass-baritones, particularly singing actors such as Chaliapin (for whom the role was created), Christoff, Ghiaurov, Raimondi, and Ramey. (However, Massenet was largely unimpressed by Chaliapin's portrayal; in one famous episode, Chaliapin burst into sobs as he was reading through the death scene, greatly annoying the composer.) The other lead roles are almost as rewarding, even though they tend to be overshadowed; Sancho Panza gets to shine not only in his comic moments but in his passionate defense of his idealistic master's dreams, and Dulcinee's spirited "Spanish" songs are sure crowd-pleasers.
Though he lived for two more years after writing it, Massenet was already ill during its composition, and given his habit of becoming infatuated with his leading ladies (in this case, Lucy Arbell), it seems quite likely that he felt some identification with the lead role.
Even if he had no such feelings, certainly Massenet knew how to go for the audience's heartstrings, and he did so with a precision worthy of a surgeon, particularly in such moments as the death scene and Dulcinee's and Quichotte's final meeting. However, he also gave the character enough dignity that the role is still one of pathos rather than bathos, though an overindulgent performer can easily disrupt that balance. Similarly, while the Spanish flavor is synthetic, and not as memorable as that in Carmen, it is nonetheless infectious.
Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) is an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Cain,
Massenet's comedie-heroique, like so many other dramatized versions of the story of Don Quixote, relates only indirectly to the great novel by Miguel de Cervantes. The immediate inspiration was Le chevalier de la longue figure, a play by the poet Jacques Le Lorrain first performed in Paris in 1904. In this version of the story, the heroine Dulcinee, who never actually appears in the original novel, is a flirtatious local beauty inspiring one of the infatuated old man's exploits.
Conceiving originally Don Quichotte to be a three-act opera, Massenet started to compose it in 1909 at a time when he, suffering from acute rheumatic pains, spent more of his time in bed than out of it, and composition of Don Quichotte became, in his words, a sort of "soothing balm." In order to concentrate on that new work, he interrupted composition of his other opera, Bacchus.
Don Quichotte was first performed in Monte Carlo on 19 February 1910. Massenet identified personally with his comic-heroic protagonist, as he was in love with Lucy Arbell who sang Dulcinee at the first performance in 1910. He was then 67 and died just two years later. The role of Don Quichotte was one of the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin's most notable achievements.
Immediately after the world premiere at Monte Carlo, the opera was staged in Brussels, Marseille and Paris (all in 1910). Then, on 27 January 1912, it was presented at the French Opera House in New Orleans, 15 November 1913, in Philadelphia, and on 18 May 1912, the London Opera House performed it as well.
After World War I Don Quichotte received its premiere in Budapest in 1917, and the Opera-Comique in Paris presented it in 1924. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City performed it only 9 times in 1926, and never since, after devastating reviews of those performances in particular, and criticisms of Massenet's music in general, by Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune.
Besides frequent and periodic revivals of it at Monte Carlo and in France, it was also shown with great success in Italy (Catania in 1928, Turin in 1933 (Teatro Regio), Bologna in 1952, Venice in 1982, Florence in 1992). The Polish premiere was at the Krakow Opera in 1962, and Baltic State Opera premiere was in 1969.
More recently, it was staged in Paris in 2000 (with Samuel Ramey in the title role) and in San Diego in 2009, starring Ferruccio Furlanetto and Denyce Graves