OPERA / A dastardly Don: Don Quixote, ENO
Monday 10 October 1994
Louise Winters is in sumptuous and sparkling form as Dulcinee - all bounce and flounce until the touching moment when she laughs off Don Quixote's proposal of marriage and simultaneously reveals how it has touched her heart. Alan Opie gives a splendidly vivid performance as Sancho Panza - he also gets the evening's best tune, and makes the most of it. With a strong quartet of soloists as the suitors, the company is off to a fine start. Unfortunately, in nearly every other respect, the ENO does the work a disservice.
At a time when opera is under attack and the ENO in particular needs a success, it is sad to have to report so negatively. Richard van Allan has sung for 30 years with ENO and deserved better: he is miscast in the title role, though he acts it well. It was written for Chaliapin, who was 36 at the premiere in 1910. Don Quixote dies at the end of the opera but, like Boris Godunov (which Chaliapin had just sung), in terms of its vocal demands, the role is not exactly a valedictory one. The conductor, Emmanuel Joel in his British debut, bullies the score in the pursuit of flashy effects and at the expense of any subtlety. Edmund Tracey's translation keeps us at arm's length from the words: Dulcinee is a 'fair traitress'; someone else 'plights his troth' (and the rhyme is 'oath'). But worst of all, Ian Judge's production turns this 'heroic comedy' into a cheap and vulgar musical - not honest vulgar, but mincing, witless vulgar. Don Quixote commands Sancho to give their last money to the beggars. Beggars? On Ian Judge's immaculately camp stage?
So the coins are distributed among the overdressed, saffron and red cute kids and chorus, who were not on their best form. Standards have risen so dramatically that the ENO chorus is currently below the level taken for granted elsewhere in Britain. When he meets the bandits, Don Quixote's nobility and heavenly foolishness disarms them. According to the stage direction he is 'haloed in the last flicker of the fire . . . radiant, he holds up his hands in a gesture of blessing'. Here, Van Allan strides to a prominent spotlight and stands in crucified position in front of it. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza ride tricycles with computer-operated horse's heads on the front, offering much opportunity for chortling.
The revolve brings on more animatronics in the form of stuffed sheep. The Spanish setting cues frantic displays of flamenco dancing. These work best before the music begins because, like Carmen itself, Massenet's music is more French than Spanish, and nothing is harder work than flamenco to music that resists it . . . the danced entr'actes become embarrassing. Having said that, Don Quixote's attack on the windmills is very well staged indeed: against a blood red sky he is carried right up into the flies.
It would be absurd to make great claims for Massenet's opera, but its nave and stylish sentimentality has become over-amplified here. Where Covent Garden allowed sympathetic irony to make Massenet's Cherubin seem a better work than it perhaps is, Judge and his designers John Gunter and Deirdre Clancy have not helped Don Quixote by turning it into a kitsch musical.
Box-office: 071-632 8300
Arts & Ents blogs
Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
Grace Dent on TV: True Detective, Sky Atlantic
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Jessica Alba interview: From Hollywood superwoman to household product CEO
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists
- 2 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it