Massenet's Don Quichotte has never quite established itself in the repertoire, not because of any deficit in the music, but because it's not immediately evident exactly what it is dramatically; is it a comedy or tragedy or some more subtle blend of the two? The last option seems to reflect the usual approach to it, which makes it a hard sell for audiences. Valery Gergiev clearly envisions it a comedy, though one with a poignant ending, and the certainty of his vision make this an exceptionally compelling and coherent presentation of the opera. His position is supported by the program notes, which point out the extent to which Massenet filled the score with tongue-in-cheek parodies of operatic conventions, such as his send-up of Gounod's pieties in the Don's fervent entreaty to the Chief of the Bandits. Gergiev's reading is energetically paced, and the vivacious playing and singing of the Mariinsky Orchestra and the Soloists' Ensemble of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers convey boisterous vitality. This is one version of the opera that avoids the mawkish sentimentality to which most performances fall prey. Mezzo-soprano Anna Kiknadze is a youthful, warmly seductive, and high-spirited Dulcinée; her portrayal suggests what Carmen might have been like had she had a more bourgeois upbringing and better impulse control. Her full, colorful voice and lively acting makes it easy to imagine her as a vivid Carmen. Ferruccio Furlanetto has established himself as master of tragic Verdi roles like King Philip in Don Carlos and Silva in Ernani. He may not have the vocal gravitas of singers like Chaliapin and Christoff in the role, but he has plenty of power and he's a terrific actor. He excels in comedy and convincingly establishes the tricky balance between the Don's frail dignity and absurdity, and he makes him a character who's not only sympathetic but believable. As Sancho, Andrei Serov, sings robustly and is an effective foil to Furlanetto. The smaller roles are consistently well taken. Although there are no French performers involved in the opera, Gergiev draws out performances that are idiomatically Gallic. The sound of Mariinsky's SACD is well balanced, very clean, and clearly detailed. Overall, this exemplary performance makes the most compelling recorded case for Don Quichotte as an opera that deserves a place in the more standard repertoire.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2