ALBUM TITLE: Adventures of Don Quixote
WORKS: A film by GW Pabst; Songs by Ibert & Dargomïsky; Sierra Nevada (extracts)
PERFORMER: Feodor Chaliapin, George Robey, Oscar Asche, Donnio, Frank Stanmore, Miles Mander, Walter Patch, Sidney Fox, Emily Fitzroy, Renee Valliers
CATALOGUE NO: 4367 (NTSC Black & White; mono)
The great singers of the early 20th century barely overlapped with cinematic sound, so all we have of Caruso’s Pagliacci, Geraldine Farrar’s Carmen, Mary Garden’s Thaïs and others are frustratingly silent films. Chaliapin, though, preserved echoes of the great role Massenet wrote for him, Don Quichotte, in this simple but striking 1933 film by the great Expressionist director G.W. Pabst, although the score and songs are by Ibert – plus a brief snatch of Dargomïzhsky’s Sierra Nevada.
Both French and English versions are included here (there was also a German), the English slightly shorter and featuring the ineffable George Robey as Sancho Panza, almost as garlicky as his French counterpart. Chaliapin himself towers over both versions, a larger than life romantic ruin, less natural in his outrageously accented English, but a magnificent performance nevertheless.
The songs, often performed as a suite, are musically engaging, much lighter and more delicate than Massenet, with florid touches of period pastiche. Chaliapin’s voice is no longer quite so cavernous but it’s as powerful and passionate as ever, his curious lower-register gargle still in evidence. He’s actually recorded singing on set – not post-dubbed – so this is as near to the live artist as we’re likely to get. An old-fashioned film, but a treasure. Michael Scott Rohan