Thursday, May 15, 2014


Quinn Kelsey as Sancho Panza and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte in
a scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Don Quichotte. Photo: Michael Cooper

Reviewed by James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company is winding up its 2013-2014 season on a triumphal note with a superb production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte. As with Roberto Devereux, it is the first time that the COC is producing this opera and again it is a borrowed staging, this time from the Seattle Opera. No issue with that; we are glad to have it. The singing is brilliant, the staging is imaginative and inspired and you will get an enjoyable evening at the opera.

Massenet composed Don Quichotte near the end of his life (he still had a few operas under his belt) and it premiered in 1910. At the time Massenet was infatuated with Lucy Arbell, the young mezzo who sang the role of Dulcinée and that fact adds poignancy to the opera and her portrayal.

The wreath for singing and acting in the production goes to bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quixote. The Italian bass just turned 65 but his singing as the old Knight Errant resonated with vocal splendour and emotional conviction. Don Quixote is the archetypal romantic; a dreamer seeking love, glory and justice in a world that is the creation of his imagination. Furlanetto exudes the irrational, humane and, in the end, noble side of Quixote who never gives up his dream. A marvelous performance.

Don Quixote is forever paired with the practical, unromantic, down-to-earth Sancho Panza sung by Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey. Panza is tired, hungry and thirsty, and he wants the comforts of life rather than the quest for chivalric glory. Kelsey gives a convincing portrait of the long-suffering and faithful servant.

Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili sings the role Dulcinée, the idealized woman of Quixote’s imagination who is far more realistic about life than her pursuer. Rachvelishvili has a luscious mid-range and her Dulcinée is delicious in a slatternly way. She is flighty but decent and in the end rejects Quixote with a humane touch.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quichotte and Anita Rachvelishvili as Dulcinée photo: Michael Cooper.

Don Quixote’s world is a product of his reading. The stories of knights errant fighting monstrous enemies, saving ladies in distress, in other words all the mythology of chivalry comes from books. Director Linda Brovsky and Set Designer have used this fact in the conception and design of the production. The set consists of huge books, inkwells and quills. Even Dulcinée’s balcony consists of the top of a tome. I would have preferred something that looked more like a balcony but no matter. The design is true to the spirit of Cervantes’s novel on which it is loosely based and the essential character of Don Quixote as a dreamer and seeker of the impossible dream.

The opera requires some expert Spanish dancing and the COC’s Anjelica Scannura, Raul Salcedo, Alex Black, Joe Perez and Akira Uchida provide some maneuvers that are graceful, acrobatic and simply delightful.

The compliments are, alas, marred by a singular example of miscasting. The libretto calls for and the whole world knows that Sancho Panza’s mode of transportation is an Equus africanus asinus, an animal created on the sixth day according to Genesis, the honourable and noble donkey.

In this production Senor Panza comes riding on (according to my assiduous research and unfailing ability to copy and paste) an animal that is “a hybrid, not a species, so it doesn't have its own scientific name. It is a cross between a donkey (Equus asinus) and a horse (Equus caballus). In scientific terms, it would be called Equus asinus x Equus caballus.” That is a mule. Not only does it not have its own scientific name, it did not come into the world on the sixth day and its conception must be considered shocking. We expect higher standards from the COC than to saddle us with a well-groomed mule when we are expecting an ass.

Don Quixote’s horse looked a bit nicer than we expect it to but if it bore any verisimilitude to what Cervantes provided his hero with, the Humane Society may have something to say about it.

Thank goodness there were no such issues with the COC Orchestra under the baton of Johannes Debus which performed exceptionally well.

Don Quichotte  by Jules Massenet (music), Henri Cain after Jacques Le Lorrain’s play Le Chevalier de la longue figure based on Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote  (libretto), opened on May 9 and will be performed a total of seven times until May 24, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

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