Massenet Don Quichotte

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ALBUM TITLE: Massenet Don Quichotte
WORKS: Don Quichotte
PERFORMER: José van Dam (bass), Silvia Tro Santafé (mezzo-soprano), Werner Van Mechelen (bass-baritone); La Monnaie Orchestra & Chorus/Marc Minkowski; dir. Laurent Pelly (Belgium, 2010)


La Monnaie’s 2010 production of Massenet’s Don Quichotte was mounted to mark both the work’s centenary and the farewell performances of the distinguished Belgian bass José van Dam. Van Dam has long excelled in the title role, while the opera was Massenet’s last great success. The sexagenarian composer imbued its bittersweet tale of an old man’s idealistic love for an unobtainable beauty with all the valedictory heartache of an intentional swansong.

Set mostly on a mountain of paper – pages torn from the chivalric romances that have driven poor Quichotte mad or from the poems he’s constantly penning to his beloved Dulcinée – Laurent Pelly’s production is both playful and dreamlike.

At almost 70, Van Dam’s voice is not what it was, but his artistry is as consummate as ever. His relative vocal frailty only enhances a characterisation that is a masterclass in expressive understatement.

The fruitier-voiced bass-baritone Werner Van Mechelen makes a bluff, Leporello-ish Sancho and, if Silvia Tro Santafé’s Dulcinée lacks délicatesse, her flirtatiously flickering vibrato and sultry lower notes teasingly suggest the carnality of this society courtesan. With her four suitors delightfully played by a quartet of youngsters personally coached by Van Dam himself, and with Marc Minkowski’s affectionate, translucent, sure-paced conducting encompassing both the score’s earthier humour and its ethereal otherworldliness, this is both a profoundly moving take on Massenet’s ‘comédie héroïque’ and a treasurable souvenir of a great performer in his final role.


Mark Pappenheim