First performed in Wexford in 1965, the return of Don Quichotte was well worth waiting for, writes Cathy Desmond.
Wexford Festival Opera rarely revisits a work. Until this year only one opera, Don Pasquale, was revived in the near seven-decade history. Retiring artistic director David Agler opened his final season with Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
The opera based on the Cervantes novel was first performed in Wexford in 1965 during the tenure of the founding artistic director, Tom Walsh.
Curiously, both operas feature a deluded old man in the main role and offer a dream show case opportunity for the bass voice more usually relegated to supporting roles.
The famous Russian bass Chaliapin sang the role of Don Quichotte at the premiere in Monte Carlo. In Wexford, a fine young bass, Goderdzi Janelidze from Georgia gave a touching portrayal of the knight errant with Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson hamming it up wonderfully as his loyal buddy Sancho.
Director Rodula Gaitanou’s handsome production is visually spectacular and effectively balances both the comedy and pathos. The duo sally forth not on steeds but on decrepit motorcycles. Beautifully lit skyscapes frame the middle acts.
The windmills are impressive giant metal structures and in a good old-fashioned coup-de-theatre, the knight is hoisted in the air on a wire harness.
Russian mezzo soprano Aigul Akhmetshina impressed as Dulcinée and looked fabulous in a wardrobe of Spanish style dresses. There was real menace in Henry Grant Kerswell's raspy delivery of the Bandit King’s spoken lines.
Kerry native Gavan Ring, appearing in his first tenor role at Wexford, played Juan with braggadocio. The 24-strong chorus filled out the staging with animated presence and secure harmonies.
In the pit, the orchestra under Timothy Myers was superb, delivering Massenet’s sumptuous score with a thrilling range of dynamics. We heard the quietest pianissimos and startling whoosh of crescendos.
There was splendid solo work from string and wind principals throughout and Adrian Mantu’s elegiac cello solo preface to Don Quichotte’s death bed scene was a highlight.
Tuesday, October 29, and Friday, November 1; Wexford Festival Opera runs until Sunday, November 3