We have already met a Massenet opera here on Classical Explorer: the magnificent Chandos Manon starring the already much-missed Erin Wall. This time we go the full video experience (it's available on both DVD and Bluray: Bluray was used for this article) for a live performance of Don Quichotte at the Bregenz Festival in 2019.
With the visual experience, of course, comes the staging by Mariame Clément, and it's probably fair to say some will love it and some loathe it in this case (I'm one of the former). Each act is cast in a different epoch and therefore exists as a quasi-entity in and of itself; and there's quite a goings on before the music starts, aimed at surprising the audience in response to a Gillette ad ("The best a man can get") which is screened on-stage initially. There is a stage-within-a-stage, with seats like those used by the audience used to proide space for "commentary" by the singers. There's also a significant ventilator fan in the second act, set in either a hospital or an asylum instead of the proscribed countryside. Neither is it the first time Spiderman has appeared, unbidden by composer or librettist: here he is assailant in the third act (he also turned up in Calixto Bieito's magnificent Don Giovanni at the London Coliseum some years ago now: see here for my review of a 2001 performance there, and here for my review of the same production on DVD, captured at Barcelona's Liceu in 2002). The fourth act is set in a sleek office (with Dulcinée in a management role, battling against her male colleagues).
This video gives you an idea of the settings, the variety of costumes (from fairy tale to sleek 21st-century work garb) as well as the high standard of performance:
The piece is a comédie-héroïque inspired by a play on the Don Quixote story by Jacques Le Lorrain. There are five acts, all brief (total playing time is 125 minutes), each an outpouring of Massenet's characteristic easy lyricism and fragrant scoring. This being Don Quichotte, we have a Spanish setting (allegedly) and Massenet responded with appropriate Italian flavourings to his music (much as Bizet had done previously in Carmen). The music, then, is glorious, and Daniel Cohen has a clear view of the whole. The cast here is a fine one, the real star the Dulcinée of smoky-voiced Anna Goryachova, with Gábor Bretz in fine voice - and great acting form, too - as this particular Don. His foil, his Sancho, is buffo baritone David Stout, and the pair make a great coupling: the Massenet equivalent of Don Giovanni/Leporello.
Let's finally hear an exxcerpt from the archives: Italo Tajo (1915-1993) singing both Don Quichotte and Sancho Panza in the final scene, a 1952 recording with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra under Gaetano Merola:
If the Thaïs tempted you into Massenet's individual, compelling and above all effortlessly beautiful operatic world, this is the perfect next step. The DVD is discounted at the link below at the time of writing.