Gábor Bretz, David Stout, Anna Goryachova (voices); Vienna Symphony/Daniel Cohen; dir. Mariame Clément (Bregenz, 2019)
C Major 754008 & 754104 125:00 mins (DVD & Blu-ray)
Opera composers should keep their distance from Don Quixote. Cervantes’s story is a picaresque parade of arbitrary events that lacks the forward driving momentum of a traditional libretto, let alone conflict and our old friend the dramatic ending. But Massenet had his own reasons to want to compose Don Quichotte for Monte Carlo in 1910. For the Knight of the Woeful Countenance and his beloved Dulcinée read the elderly composer and his mezzo-soprano Lucy Arbell.
None of this finds its way into Mariame Clément’s production for Bregenz, though the five acts, played as a series of almost self-contained scenes, do tackle the muddle that is contemporary masculinity with the Don appearing as Spider-Man in Act III and Superman too. This is post-Brechtian opera with a young man disturbing the audience, as they watch an ad for Gillette razors before the curtain rises, and then as Sancho Panza joining Don Quixote on an onstage bench to watch the show.
Yet it’s still Massenet, and Daniel Cohen spins a deft line through a score that can be utterly bewitching – an admixture of Spanish and French styles that discreetly nods at the Bayreuth Sorcerer in the brass section. Gábor Bretz and Anna Goryachova, Quixote and Dulcinée, both make the most of their big numbers, his Act I serenade and her rejection of his marriage proposal. And Massenet knows how to squeeze the emotions in the last act – it’s real tears you shed for Quixote dying under a giant stage-painted oak tree.