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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Don Quichotte, Comédie héroïqe in Five Acts (2:05:00)
Gábor Bretz (Don Quichotte),
David Stout (Sancho Panza),
Anna Goryachova (Dulcinée),
Léonie Renaud (Pedro)
Vera Maria Bitter (Garcias)
Paul Schweinester (Rodriguez)
Patrick Reiter (Juan)
Elie Chapus (Bandit Chief)
Wiener Symphoniker, Prague Philharmonic Choir, cond. Daniel Cohen,
Mariame Clément (Director); Julia Hansen (Sets and costumes)
Rec. live at the 2019 Bregenz Festival, Austria.
Picture NTSC 16:9, Sound PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 (Reviewed in surround sound)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Japanese , Korean
C MAJOR 754008 DVD [125 mins]

In music, Cervantes’ Don Quixote belongs pre-eminently to the tone poem of Richard Strauss, who knew that the baggy picaresque novel could not easily become an opera. Massenet's comédie-héroïque of 1910 was derived from Cervantes only via a play, Le chevalier de la longue figure by Jacques Le Lorrain, which premiered in Paris in 1904, and became the libretto by Henri Caïn. Massenet acknowledged in his memoirs that it was Le Lorrain’s idea of transforming the “fat tavern maid” Aldonza, whom only Don Quixote imagines is his lovely “Lady Dulcinea”, into the widely desired Dulcinée, the young local beauty who is touched by the old man’s infatuation. In fact she appears only in Acts 1 and 4 (apart from a brief offstage contribution at the close), whereas the opera preserves Cervantes’ idea of a work which became the original of other genres, such as the road movie and the buddy movie. So Don Quixote and his ‘squire’ Sancho Panza drive all five acts.

In this production they drive the action through the centuries too. In Act 1 we have an evocation of the novel’s renaissance Spain, but in Acts 2, 3 and 4 we are in a modern bathroom , a rough urban landscape, and a corporate headquarters respectively. Act 5 provides just a flat painted tree for Quixote to expire beneath. He has armour, costume and mask to approximate the figure familiar from Gustave Doré’s illustrations in the outer acts, but in between is garbed as Spiderman and briefly as Superman, modern descendants of the chivalric ideal perhaps. Director Mariame Clément explains in the booklet “if each act is carefully treated as an opera within itself, each of which portrays an aspect of this timeless story, an unexpected diversity is revealed.” Less persuasive is the short film shown before curtain up, deploying a familiar Gillette advert and playing on sexism and the strapline “the best a man can get” (i.e. “get” in the sense of “become”, rather than “obtain”). Clément says that Quixote “forges a path to a new kind of heroism and masculinity.” To protest at updatings is to tilt at windmills. A timeless story can be located in any time and Mariame Clément’s production is certainly a convincing approach to the tale, though that filmed prologue might not bear much repetition.

The singing is strong all round. The Dulcinée of Anna Goryachova looks and sounds as alluring as she must, if she is plausibly to acquire not only Don Quixote but four other suitors as well. The Russian mezzo has a rich, steady lower register, ideally exploited in her opening number when the “perverse enchantress” muses on her awful plight of being twenty and constantly surrounded by an adoring crowd. Quixote and Sancho are both excellent. The latter is taken by British singer David Stout, who has long since made that transition from star boy chorister to operatic lead. He is humorous in his lamentations about his master, and in his big hymn to misogyny in Act 2. His highlight though is before the curtain at the end of Act 4, urging pity on the newly broken-hearted knight. Gábor Bretz has the emotional range for Don Quichotte, which is wider than one might expect, moving from amorousness at the start, violence in his Act 2 attack on the windmills (a large bathroom fan), and on to the noble sentiments of his self-revealing aria to the bandits of Act 3. Bretz is a bass-baritone singing a role written for a bass (Chaliapin), so tends to be rather close to the baritone sound of his Sancho at times. They are both very affecting in the ten minutes of Act 5.

The smaller roles such as the various suitors and bandits are all well cast. Daniel Cohen finds the sentiment in the score without tipping over into sentimentality, and the Vienna Symphony play very well for him, not least in the orchestral preludes and entractes. The cello solo in the entracte between Acts 4 and 5 is exquisitely played. (The booklet lists every technician involved, but this fine cellist remains anonymous). The filming, editing and the 5.1 sound are fine, too, with Dulcinée’s tiny part at the end well balanced in the surround sound mix. I have not seen any of the rival DVDs of this fine work of which at least three are available. But I found this most enjoyable, especially vocally, and at the end, moving too.

Roy Westbrook



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