Massenet, in his day, France’s most popular composer, remains well-known particularly for his operatic and commercial success with Manon (1884). He operated at the popular, lighter end of the operatic spectrum.
Years later, he chose the subject of Don Quixote, created by Shakespeare’s contemporary, the Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote has inspired many works of art including a sketch by Picasso, and operas by composers such as Salieri, Donizetti and Mendelssohn. Richard Strauss’s composed a tone poem, Don Quixote. There have been many successful ballets.
Accompanied by Sancho Panza, his squire mounted on a donkey, the absurd knight sets forth to recover a necklace stolen from Dulcinée, his respected but unattainable lady. He tilts (charges) at windmills, believing they are giants. He recovers the jewelry from ferocious bandits, but when he returns them, the lady derides his proposal of marriage. Dismayed and disappointed, he dies of grief.
Don Quichotte was premièred in 1910, in Monte Carlo. It was written for the Russian bass, Shalyapin, the star of Boris Godunov.
The opera is full of Spanish colour; Massenet’s melody for the Don’s love song Quand apparaissent les étoiles, when the stars appear, is particularly popular.
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