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About dramma per musica


Robert Kingston


Where to begin? My name is Bob Kingston. I’m a librarian, free-lance musicologist, pre-concert lecturer, and self-professed opera fanatic living in Portland, Oregon. My operatic tastes are pretty eclectic, though I’m not a huge fan of French grand opera (who is?) and Gluck’s appeal totally escapes me. Radical or updated stagings don’t bother me in the least, as long as they succeed in bringing out aspects of the drama that I hadn’t noticed before. I’d rather watch something that generates a strong reaction–negative or positive–than sit through yet another thunderously dull production of Carmen or Rigoletto. I love collecting historic vocal recordings, and I often use examples of these in my classes and presentations. So, don’t be surprised if I post a clip of some obscure Russian tenor or Italian baritone from time to time.

knight errant

Georges Rochegrosse's poster for Don Quichotte (1910) I’m heading north to catch today’s matinee of Jules Massenet’s 1910 comédie-héroïque, Don Quichotte, at Seattle Opera. Originally conceived as a vehicle for the great Russian basso, Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), several other outstanding singers have performed and/or recorded the title role since its premiere in Monte Carlo, including Boris Christoff, Jerome Hines, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey, José van Dam, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. (Seattle’s Gold Series Don Quixote is John Relyea, and his Silver Series counterpart is the young French bass-baritone, Nicholas Cavallier.) In this pair of clips, we can see and hear two of those noted interpreters in action. First off is van Dam, who in this 201o production from Brussels, attempts to do battle against a giant windmill blade at the end of the second act. His hapless Sancho is Werner Van Mechelen. And from a 2002 concert performance in Moscow, Nicolai Ghiaurov sings Quixote’s moving Death Scene in Act 5, with his wife, Mirella Freni, providing the off-stage voice of Dulcinée. Chaliapin’s recorded legacy of Don Quichotte is also worth noting–three excerpts running to just over 18 minutes worth of music–as it documents a highly melodramatic style of performance that has long since fallen out of favor. There are, unfortunately, no video clips of Chaliapin in the role, but his powerful portrayal of Cervantes’ knight errant  from G.W. Pabst’s 1933 film adaptation of the novel–with music by Jacques Ibert–will do in a pinch.