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O'Reilly Theatre, National Opera House

The ageing and self-proclaimed knight-errant Don Quichotte and his long-suffering but fiercely devoted servant Sancho set out to have a chivalrous adventure. On his travels, he falls in love with the damsel Dulcinée, who sends him on a quest to retrieve her necklace from a band of thieves. After capture by bandits, a skirmish with windmills and a spurned marriage proposal, Don Quichotte contemplates his greatest adventure yet.

Though Jules Massenet had a few more operas left in him, Don Quichotte feels in many ways like his operatic farewell. The opera premiered 19 February 1910 in Monte Carlo it indeed proved to be his last great success – and two-and-a-half years later the composer died aged 70. He labelled it a comédie-héroïque, and as that unusual classification reflects how this opera is at once witty and sad, and above all deeply humane. Its view of Spain is hardly more authentic than that of Carmen; although drawn from Cervantes, it is transmitted via Jacques Le Lorrain’s play Le chevalier de la longue figure (1904), just as Carmen comes from Merimée. But one of the many enjoyable strands in the score is the pastiche-Spanish music, including the extraordinary evocation of windmills.

Starring Jette Parker Young Artist and Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshinato to perform the role of La belle Dulcinée. The award-winning and rising star recently performed in La forza del destino in Covent Garden and was described as "superbly alluring" by Bachtrack in what was called "the cast of the century". Aigul performs the role of Carmen in the Royal Opera House 26 June 2019.

Sung in French with English surtitles

“… one of Europe’s key international music events.”

- Wall Street Journal

The score also contains one of Massenet’s greatest self-generating melodies, heard in Don Quichotte’s Act 1 Serenade. The title role was written for the great Chaliapin, but it is very hard not to view the opera as autobiographical – making gentle fun of an elderly man with a fondness for feminine beauty. Massenet’s own feelings seem to have been poured into the work, which helps to explain the richly sentimental portrait of Cervantes’s semi-hero. Sancho Panza is also drawn in the tradition of comic opera, but it is the portrayal of Dulcinée that is perhaps most telling of all. A slightly cynical gold-digger, albeit it one with a heart, Dulcinée certainly represents the sort of femmes the composer was used to encountering in the cafés of Paris, but there was something more specifically autobiographical here too. The role was written for the young mezzo-soprano Lucy Arbell, who had been leading the infatuated Massenet (some 40 years older than she) in a bit of a dance. Arbell created several roles in late Massenet operas, and the part of Dulcinée, in particular, exemplifies the late-period entry of the mezzo-soprano voice into the composer’s creative consciousness.

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