Looks better than it sounds

Massenet’s Don Quichotte is one of those works where one does a double take on learning when it was composed.  It dates from 1910 but sounds like it was composed at least 50 years earlier.  It’s lushly romantic and dressed up with elements of flamenco but to nothing like as good effect as in de Falla’s La vida breve.  There’s also plenty of schmaltz.  The intro to Act 5, for example, being highly reminiscent of the Meditation in Thaïs. The plot’s pretty thin too.  Don Quixote loves the unattainable Dulcinea.  He goes off and encounters some bandits who eventually take pity on him and rather than killing him give him Dulcinea’s necklace, which they have stolen.  He returns it to her.  She is grateful but still not interested in marrying him.  He dies.  Great!

1.brothelPlamen Kartaloff of the Sofia National Opera does his best to liven it up.  He makes Dulcinea a dominatrix in a brothel which sets up Don Quixote’s naivety quite nicely.  He makes effective use of the ballet and a troupe of flamenco dancers.  All this is helped by quite stunning sets and costumes by Yoanna Manoledaki.  There are also some fun touches like representing Don Quixote and Sancho Pancha’s mounts by segways.  It would probably be quite enjoyable if the singing were really good.  Unfortunately it’s only pretty average.  Orlin Anastaov is a tolerable Don Quixote but hardly shines and Ventsslav Anastov is effective enough as a cheeky chappy Sancho Panza.  Dulcinea is a contralto role and is sung here by Tsveta Sarambelieva.  She looks stunning but the voice doesn’t really have the needed power in the lower registers and becomes rather squally higher up.  It’s only fair to point out that none of the singers are helped by the stereo (in 2009?) recording which favours the orchestra and is quite harsh sounding.

2.hangingKartaloff is also responsible for the video direction which gets quirky at times but is mostly OK.  I liked the synopsis page before each act as the introduction plays.  It helped keep the plot of an unfamiliar opera straight.  The picture quality is perfectly decent.  There are no extras and minimal documentation.  Subtitle options are English, French, Italian, German. Spanish and Bulgarian.

3.dancersThis is fun to look at in places but the dodgy sound and/or singing make for a very long two hours.

4.death

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7 thoughts on “Looks better than it sounds

  1. Oy John! Why are you watching this stuff! First Thais–and now a possibly worse opera ( if that is possible). Is there a DVD of Esclarmonde (the worst opera I have personally attended–with Mr & Mrs Sutherland btw) out there for you to review? Have you gone through everything by Schenck and Zef and are getting desperate? If so, you may want to check out Bartlett Sher–as bad as he is at least only your eyes (and not your ears) might bleed.

    • You have a point. The reason I watched it is that Don Quichotte is playing at the COC next month and I wanted some idea of what I’m in for. At least in this Bulgar version the production is quite witty while the COC one a live horse and a live donkey which sounds a bit worrying. Looks like the only real reason to go will be the singing. Ferrucio Furlanetto is making his house debut and Quinn Kelsey and Anita Rachvelishvili are not to be sneezed at. Wish they had been cast in something more interesting though.

      • Yikes! What a waste of great signers–I could think of lots of other things I’d love to hear this cast perform. The Horse and Donkey I am sure will be the high point of the production! I guess you didn’t see the HD of the Met’s (and every other major houses) Falstaff where the single (maybe only really good thing) is the horse.

  2. I have the Minkowski-Pelly La Monnaie DVD, John, with Jose van Dam in the title role and the production is better, but the music and the libretto… I just don’t feel the need to see that opera again, ever, live or recorded.

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