Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The impossible dream

February 21, 2009

Ferruccio Furlanetto and Denyce Graves
Photo: Cory Weaver/SDO 2009

San Diego Opera is currently providing a rare opportunity to see Massenet’s Don Quichotte, an opera deserving of more attention than it is usually afforded. It’s a treat to hear, especially considering that under the right conditions it could be as easily entertaining as Verdi’s Falstaff. And while, sadly, these are not quite such circumstances; there are some things worth seeing. First and foremost is bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. He’s a longtime friend of this company, and this production was staged more or less exclusively for him. And why not? He’s great, infusing Cervantes’ hero with real humor and pathos. To make the situation even better, he’s abetted by Eduardo Chama in the role of Sancho Panza. Chama is solid throughout and works well here with one of the biggest stars of the operatic stage. The San Diego Symphony Orchestra was in the pit under Karen Keltner who fared well even if it wasn’t the most French sound one could imagine.

However, Massenet and Furlanetto are not alone in this endeavor, but little else lives up to their standard. Company General Director Ian Campbell directs this rather pedestrian staging, which appears to at least have the benefit of being non-descript enough to stand in for about two dozen other operas with little more than a costume change. It's a brand new production, but you wouldn't know that to look at it. The lighting was quite good, however, with Marie Barrett turning some minimal moments into far more enticing propositions including the windmill scene. The chorus sounded fine, but could have used a little more stage direction. The bitterest pill, though, was Denyce Graves as Dulcinea. Graves gives her character a worldliness, but vocally things are far too out of control for her at this point to manage this role. It was a white-knuckle performance – and not in a good sense.

Still, for San Diego to put time and effort into something a little off the beaten path these days is admirable. You’re not going to hear this work again soon, especially given the unfairly bad rap French opera gets in this country. There is one more performance on Sunday the 22nd.


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