Opera, ballet, musical theatre et al have been inspired by the world’s second most translated book, Miguel de Cervantes’ thousand page tome Don Quixote. Quite why a clapped-out, delusional figure on his equally clapped-out horse Rocinate should translate to pointy-toe dancing or Broadway musical was never clear to me, but with opera one can paint on a larger canvas.
In the past Don Quixote has been seen as a rather pathetic figure ‘tilting at windmills’. But for me there is a parallel here, close to me. My very own Don Quixote, my youngest brother, fought for five years and won the fight against an international corporation which proposed the mass erection of 180m high wind turbines blighting the landscape of ancient fortified villages along the foothills of the French Pyrenees.
True to their raison d’être Opera2Day has devised yet another brand new opera, this one based on the unlikely Spanish hero – The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Their creations of new works, using a mix of existing classical as well as new music, usually work brilliantly. For this production, the New European Ensemble was joined by La Fonte Musica, a choir specialising in medieval music. Concept and libretto are by Stefano Simone Pintor.
Don Quixote’s story depicts the clash between the dream of an ideal, moral world and the harsh reality. This production is certainly multi-faceted, illustrating perceived values as relevant today as in the time of Cervantes. This version has a Mr Freestone, a greedy stockbroker who loses Mr Benegeli’s fortune, propelling the latter over the precipice on sanity. Pasting himself in silver foil, tipping a bucket on his head and naming scatter-brained archivist Miguel as Sancho Panza, Benegeli promotes himself to knight errant Don Quixote. Saddling up a gold tea trolley in lieu of a horse, he rides off, pursued by the anxious Miguel/Sancho, both giving a credible impression of actually riding horses.
A nice touch, and fil rouge, is the reader pacing throughout the production, Cervantes’ book I hand. There was a lot of paper used to good effect, especially crumpled pieces on long strings as giant curtains, reflecting the light, at times as stars against the black background.
There was so much going on one had to concentrate hard but there were amusing moments. In a setting resembling a MacDonalds, Don Quixote wants to fight off an army of human-sized beer bottles and mustard tubes. He declares his love for Dulcinea, the cleaning lady and marvels at her yellow rubber household glove which he praises as being of pure spun gold. He battles a hail of paper plates with a foil-covered umbrella as sword. Later he fights a human centipede and, striking giant fans, reminiscent of current wind turbines, he is electrocuted and ends up unconscious in Sancho Panza’s arms, pieta-like.
Throughout, the pair’s relationship is fraught as well as affectionate. I especially liked Manuel Nunez-Camelino’s portrayal of Sancho Panza. Unlike the traditional illustration of a paunchy, slow Sancho, Nunez-Camelino is spritely, frail even, as he repeatedly tries to reign in Mattijs van de Woerd’s excellently rendered deluded Quixote.
For me the best scene came when Mr Freestone’s former office had transmuted to an old people’s home, with the cast in pyjama’s shuffling around and fighting over a game of Monopoly. Greedy Mr Freestone was still up to his old tricks – “I’m buying everything”, he says.
With a large cast it would be unjust to pick out individuals, but there were some very fine voices from La Fonte Musica which, for me, were somewhat underused, as the recitative seemed to take up so much of the proceeding. In the stage direction the production would also have benefitted from a little more movement to underscore the recitative. In the first half there appeared to be minimal evidence of Spanish medieval music, but it came into its own in the second half with more fine singing from La Fonte Musica. Throughout, Emlyn Stam’s New European Ensemble played beautifully, but became almost side-lined by, for my taste and for an opera, too much talk, not enough singing. Astrid Burchardt, 22nd January 2023
Don Quixote premiered on Sunday, 22nd January at the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague. This will be followed by a tour throughout the country, from Groningen to Eindhoven and from Nijmegen to Carré in Amsterdam.