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Full of charm and delight

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
05/09/2014 -  & May 11, 14, 17, 20, 22, 24, 2014
Jules Massenet: Don Quichotte
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Don Quichotte), Anita Rachvelishvili (Dulcinée), Quinn Kelsey (Sancho Panza), Sasah Djihanian (Pedro), Arian Chris (Garcias), Andrew Haji (Rodriguez), Owen McCausland (Juan), Michel Corbeil (Ténébrun)
The Canadian Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Sandra Hurst (Chorus Master), Johannes Debus (conductor)
Linda Brovsky (director), Donald Eastman (set designer)
Christina Poddubiuk (costume designer), Connie Yun (lighting designer), Sara Luis (choreographer)

F. Furlanetto & A. Rachvelishvili (© Michael Cooper )

Even with excellent singers and an attractive production that playfully brings out the best aspects of the work, the inescapable central fact about Don Quichotte is it’s dramaturgical anemia. Cervantes’ discursive masterpiece has enough in it for several dramatizations, but the episodes chosen by Jules Massenet and his librettist, Henri Caïn, simply don’t add up to much. The work is skilfully composed, although the music lacks the vividness of Le Cid a “Spanish” work dating from a quarter of a century earlier.

This is one of Massenet’s later works, dating from 1909 when he was 67. It was composed for the bass Feodor Chaliapin and it has come to be considered as basically a vehicle for a star bass. Thus the appearance here of Ferruccio Furlanetto who inhabits the role with apparent ease - nonchalance even. His ample voice has an interestingly weathered tone (understandable after decades of singing major roles - he turns 65 during the Toronto run). An endearing performance overall.

The Don’s beloved, Dulcinée, is sung by Anita Rachvelishvili whose warm, rich voice seems to embrace everyone in the audience personally. The sheer sensuousness of her sound convinces that she is worthy of the knight’s adoration. The third main role is that of Sancho Panza, a sort-of Leporello figure (although his boss is a lot nicer than Don Giovanni). His sympathetic aria “Riez, allez, riez du pauvre ideologue” (“Come laugh at this poor idealist”) is probably the best piece in the opera and Quinn Kelsey shows us once again (he was Rigoletto in Toronto in 2011) that he is one of the finest baritones around.

Smaller roles are well performed as well. Andrew Haji, Owen McCausland, Sasha Djihanian and Ariana Chris are Dulcinée’s four swains (of whom she is dismissive); Michel Corbeil gives a sharply-defined portrayal of the bandit chief, Ténébrun a spoken role. (The ruthless bandits turn out to be more like the pirate of Penzance - perhaps this is where W. S. Gilbert got the idea.)

One of the delights of the work is the colourful orchestration. The orchestra is large (85 players) but under Johannes Debus’s typically alert guidance never sounds thick or heavy. A standout scene is the accompaniment to Don Quichotte’s attack against the windmills. The score also features a lovely cello solo. The attractive sets feature giant books from which the characters emerge - also giant inkwells and quill pens, all bringing forth the literary wellspring of the work. Lively dancing adds further zest. An additional delight: the Don and his sidekick ride a horse and donkey respectively.

The Canadian Opera Company stands accused of neglecting Massenet - the last local production was of Werther back in 1992. While one might wish for a stronger work, there is much to savour in this fine production.

Michael Johnson



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