Don Quixote - 2000

Quixote Uses Animal Magic

'Massenet's Masterful Patchwork of Musical Ideas'

REVIEW in the Sevenoaks Chronical by Mark Fitz-Gerald: Don Quixote performed by Kentish Opera at the Stag Theatre (Nov 28 - Dec 2)

DON Quixote, Kentish Opera's autumn production at the Stag, was one of Massenet's last' works, completed only two years before his death. The score is a masterful patchwork of musical ideas (very much reflecting the French fascination of all things Spanish), constantly enhancing and enriching the action of the opera.

Although memorable, Massenet's musical language is so subtle that there is very little one can come away humming after a performance.

From the very first scene, director Sally Langford and her team were filling the stage with life and colour, each surprise and idea even more delightful than the last, including chickens, sheep, piglets and even a dancing bear, and all with a natural spontaneity and realism, together with Carol Stephenson's stunning costumes and Enid Strutt's ingenious set, with some fabulous working windmills.

The performance was conducted by ENO's Stephen Harris, who never allowed the singers to become over indulgent, which would have gone against the Frenchness of the score. Dulcinea's four suitors, John Bailey, Peter Daniel, Caroline Patterson and Yvette Cummings made a splendid team, as well as characterful individuals. Dulcinea herself was sung by Deborah Davison, with a warm and full voice, even if a little stern at times. Don Quiuote and Sancho Panza's first entrance was quite unforgettable as they looked perfectly in character on Enid Strutt's beautifully constructed mechanical horse and donkey.

Paul Hedges as Quixote aroused both our respect and sympathy by the gentle dignity with which he played and sang the role. Michael Fitchew as Sancho, proved an excellent counterfoil to his master's lofty concepts with his rustic and rather less elevated priorities. Special mention must be made of the young Spanish dancer, Marta Casado Martinet who danced and led so many beautiful and atmospheric moments throughout the evening, at one point accompanied by a live guitar on stage, spectacularly played by Simon James.

Review by ROY ATTERBURY Kentish Times December 7th 2000

In terms of costumes, sets, vitality and performers, Kentish Opera once again achieved very high standards when it brought its production of Don Quixote to the Stag Theatre last week.

Its presentation showed how it stands as one of the most creative provincial companies of its type in the country. Indeed, many of its productions reach the standards that more illustrious companies might applaud.

However, the performance I attended had some of the gloss removed by two factors that prevented a very good production becoming one of great quality. Firstly, some of the scenes had moments where the fluidity of the action was marred by slightly uncomfortable moments of 'inactivity.' For example, the first entrance of Don Quixote with his servant Sancho Panza seemed to take an interminable period of time after the townspeople of La Mancha had first heralded the couple's arrival.

Secondly, the sets were dismantled and built in full view of the audience during the intervals between the five Acts. While there may have been practical reasons for this, the theatrical magic that had been so carefully contrived was sadly diluted. Nevertheless, this was a production that glittered with some fine performances, an outstanding contribution by the chorus, and an orchestra that excelled under its conductor Stephen Harris. Simon Neal's portrayal of Don Quixote superbly captured the sad, frail and poignant qualities of one of literature's most famous characters. His rich bass baritone was a delight and I have never seen 'the knight with a woeful countenance' portrayed with such sensitivity.

As Sancho Panza, Michael Fitchew, too, created a perfect foil to a deranged master in a performance that reflected perplexity and compassion with a combination of fine acting and a baritone voice that brought great depth to the character. Soprano Deborah Davison also excelled as Quixote's romantic fixation Dulcinella, while Marta Casado Martinez delighted the audience with her exceptional display of flamenco dancing. Full of colour, drama and emotion, this was a production that perfectly captured the essence of Cervantes' classical story.