A Sparkling Performance
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 04/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This unassuming cover for these CDs hides such a delightful opera.
Jules Massenet was 67, a mere two years before his death, when he composed Don Quichotte (calling it a comedie-heroique); he produced one of his most lyrical and delightful works. The first performance was in 1910 in Monte Carlo and Feodor Chaliapin was noted for playing the Don.
The opera is in five short acts. The action introduces Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza to Dulcinee with the Don immediately falling in love with her(act one); followed by the Don Quichotte practicing a serenade for his new love and his combat with the windmills which the Don takes to be giants (act 2). Act 3 recounts the Don's capture by bandits and his being freed by them when they have pity on the old man, moved by his "final" prayer. In act 4, the action returns to Dulcinee's house where another fiesta is taking place and the Don proposed marriage to his love and is affectionately refused. In the final act, the Don realizes that he has lost touch with his purpose for living and that his death is near; he sees an image of Dulcinee before he quietly slips away.
This recording comes from 1978 and, arguably, has not been surpassed. The opera begins with a real bang: we are transported to a lively festival in front of Dulcinee's house. The music is sunny and this recording, although made in a studio, comes to life as if this were a real celebration. Massenet's music is fresh and lively with brilliant rhythms and haunting melodies. One reviewer that I have read finds the final act too "sugary" but I find the death of the Don quite moving in its simplicity. The roles of Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza are critical to this opera and in this performance are beautifully sung by Nicolai Ghiaurov and Gabriel Bacquier; their characterizations as the Don and his servant are nicely played. Regine Crespin makes a splendid Dulcinee and the supporting cast members fill their roles very well. The Suisse Romande play to perfection under the direction of Kazimierz Kord; and the chorus is truly first-rate. As a filler, the four scenes alsaciennes are performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra under Richard Bonynge. These short pieces make a good addition with their festive air that complements the opera perfectly.
The LPs have been nicely transferred to CD. The booklet includes a synopsis and the libretto but no essay about the opera.