Massenet: Don Quichotte

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Don Quichotte
PERFORMER: Teresa Berganza, José van Dam, Alain Fondary, Isabelle Vernet, Marie-Ange Todorovitch, Christian Papis, Nicolas Rivenq, Jean-Claude Barbier; Toulouse Capitole Chorus & Orchestra/Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 54767 2 DDD
Don Quichotte is the latest of Massenet’s operas – premiered in 1910, two years before his death – to have maintained a (tentative) foothold in the international repertoire, largely thanks to the advocacy of star basses who would follow in the footsteps of the title-role’s creator, Chaliapin.

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The post-war era has produced no ideally stylish recording, but this new EMI version comes close. Plasson’s feeling for the special flavour of Massenet’s music – with its sensuous melodies and colourful orchestral evocation of Spain – is unrivalled today and, for his sake alone, this set is obviously preferable to the Suisse Romande/Decca version. Van Dam’s ‘Chevalier de la longue figure’, sung in the tradition of Massenet’s preferred protagonist, Vanni-Marcoux, rather than that of Chaliapin, is an improvement on Decca’s Ghiaurov. Fondary sings superbly, but he does not relish his words as does Bacquier’s Sancho and his timbre is too similar to Van Dam’s.

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The object of Quixote’s romantic heroism, Dulcinée, was taken by the then 51-year-old Régine Crespin on Decca’s 1978 recording – past the first flush of her youth (‘Quand la femme a vingt ans’, she sings optimistically!), but still stylish. Unfortunately, her EMI counterpart Berganza is even older and disguises her years rather less well. Incomprehensible casting, but EMI still has my clear preference. Hugh Canning