With temperatures quickly plummeting from 70’s to 30’s, it’s quite possible that winter-trained Chicagoans whose eyes train to see icy spots missed the wonderful marquis sign outside the Civic Opera Building. The sign reads, “I like big opera and I can’t tell a lie.”
Massenet’s DON QUICHOTTE staged by The Lyric Opera with Italian Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in perhaps his most signature role/the title role certainly fits this BIG mandate. More, this is a telling of one of THE stories in Western civilization’s literary canon— Miguel Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”.
Director Matthew Ozawa reminds us even before the curtain rises that this is one of the world’s GREAT books. The first thing we see is an excerpt from Cervantes’ classic projected on the grand curtain.
The prelude/overture scene is of a boy with a larger-than-life book turning the classic’s pages. Every subsequent scene similarly begins with a Cervantes’ excerpt. Later, after intermission, our young boy with big book returns, acting out how the story grows in his imagination, reminding us that this classic tale had long ago taken over its share of real estate in our imaginations too.
It’s not exactly the same Don Quixote from Cervantes’ pen. Massenet took liberties with the tale, or rather the playwright whom he lifted the story from, Jacques Le Lorrain, did.
Here’s the Lyric’s delightful “elevator pitch” recapping the opera’s story line—
Perhaps the biggest change in the story is the elevation of Cervantes’ plain farm girl Dulcinea to Massenet’s Dulcinée, given the full-court diva power it deserves by Clémentine Margaine. She is the rock star Madonna of her town, who today would similarly need Jean Paul Gauthier couture to remind she is one helluva sexual power. In much of her first scenes, Margaine sings alone without orchestral accompaniment, riveting you to the power of her mezzo-soprano voice. Save your admiration though for Act IV, when the score for Margaine and the orchestra just aches with beauty.
Beautiful too is the timbre of audience favorite Nicola Alaimo’s baritone voice, giving us the all too reality-based Sancho, Quichotte’s long-suffering sidekick. You will enjoy his singing outbursts about women and Quichotte’s tilting at windmills, but here too, the score in the final two acts allows Alaimo to give full-throttle to his voice. When he sings out to the world to understand Quichotte’s gentle heart as something to admire, we truly feel it.
The quickening pace of the windmills’ flurry as a window to Quichotte’s madness is a memorable part of the score, as explained in this video, along with other musical insights by conductor Sir Andrew Davis.
In his Lyric debut, set designer Ralph Funicello creates the windmills via video projections overlaying the stage’s windmills. The small mannequin representation of Quichotte grabbing its wheels gets titters from an appreciative audience. There is an added touch at the end of the turning windmill wheels seeming to float weightlessly into space,seeming to comment that Quichotte may have been the world’s first space cadet, colloquially speaking.
Costume designer Missy West also is making her Lyric debut in this performance. These are lush and period-appropriate garbs that more than work.
You’ll want to thank Furlanetto for his so apt portrayal of Quichotte.
Great story from a great book, on a great stage, and with great voices—Highly recommended for all opera lovers and also lovers of great literature who want to give opera its due as a teller of tales.
Now through December 7, 2016
Civic Opera House
20 North Wacker Drive