Magnificent Ferruccio Furlanetto lives and dies a great “Don Quichotte”: an opera review by Victor Grynberg

March 21, 2018 by Victor Grynberg
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After much anticipation, and a non-appearance on opening night due to indisposition, Sydney finally saw the great Ferruccio Furlanetto in the role for which, world-wide he has appeared  and received rave reviews about.

Ferruccio Furlanetto and Warwick Fyfe in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of Don Quichotte Photo: Prudence Upton

Needless to say no-one was disappointed with this great bass, a voice so rich and  a portrayal of the Knight-errant so authentic you’d have though Cervantes ‘ Don Quixote” had come back to life.

No wonder he is in such demand for “the role of his life”

Victor Grynberg

Loosely based on the famous novel, which also inspired “Man of La  Mancha” with its great hymn, “To Dream the Impossible Dream”, the opera focuses on just parts of the novel, mainly the knight’s unsuccessful quest to woo the hand of the beautiful Dulcinee.( Sung beautifully by Russian Mezzo Elena Maximova making her OA debut).

I kept feeling all night that many members of the packed house were just waiting for The Impossible Dream to commence.

The opera starts with a festival in the Town Square in front of Dulcinea’s home. The Spanish dancers are exceptional. Under the guidance of Tomas Dietz, who famously found one of his dance leads busking in Sydney’s Pitt St Mall, the Spanish flavour was well and truly set.

Four squires are seeking the attention of Dulcinea, all unsuccessfully. Performed by an excellent group of local artists, Graeme Macfarlane, John Longmuir , Jane Ede and Anna Dowsley (the last two in drag).

Finally Don Quixote arrives with his trusty horse, a plaster one unfortunately for those who like the real thing, his faithful servant Sancho Panza and his plaster donkey..

The beautiful Dulcinea seems fascinated by this unruly haired, skinny old knight and this results in a sword fight between the Don and Juan, one of the jealous would be lovers.

It’s in Act 11 that the confused Don Quixote mistakes windmills for giants. The set, very well designed by San Diego’s Ralph Funicello, uses projection to almost bring the nightmare to life.

In what seems a very sensible move, OA has borrowed this production from San Diego Opera, no doubt saving hugely on the costs, and allowing us to see a short run of what would not ever be a massive long-run opera. The costumes come from there also, just perfect for the setting,  designed by Missy West.

Massenet wrote many operas, Thais, Werther and Manon amongst them. His Meditation from “Thais” is probably the most played operatic piece today.

In many ways his sweet music has been the source of much criticism in the 20th Century but in the second half of the 19th century his popularity reigned supreme . It  has been compared to that 100 years or so later of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Don Quichotte is not his best opera, but there is much redemption for the production in the second half. Massenet’s music is better than ever, Dulcinea sings beautifully, Don Quixote dies a sad death, which he portrays magnificently,  but most probably the biggest revelation in this half is Warwick Fyfe as Sancho Panza. Like a footballer lifting his game when promoted to a better team, Mr Fyfe, a baritone whose voice I’ve long admired sings and acts Sancho Panza to a Lionel Messi standard. No wonder the audience erupted when he came on stage to receive his acknowledgement. Bravo to him.

For lovers of great Opera this is a unique opportunity to see an Opera, never performed professionally in Australia before, with the world’s best Don Quichotte,

4 ½ stars

Don Quichotte by Jules Massenet  Joan Sutherland Theatre  , Sydney Opera House Monday March 19th 2018

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