BWW Reviews: Furlanetto Conquers La Mancha - With Dignity
For two magical hours, Ferruccio Furlanetto lifted an embattled San Diego Opera from its doldrums to the lofty heights only such an artist can invoke, in his exquisite rendering of Jules Massenet's noble, genteel Don Quixote.
This timeless work about an ageless man existing in a materialistic world devalued of spiritual ideals premiered at the Opéra de Monte Carlo in 1910, toward the end of Massenet's life. Written in a style uniquely different from his usual, this work incorporates a pastiche of fascinating elements. Massenet's orchestration is at times delicate, at times almost Wagnerian, reflecting his admiration for the German composer and his use of leitmotifs. His obsession with Spanish music and culture, a pervading characteristic of late nineteenth century French composers, is evident in this opera's distinctive Spanish flavor as it is in Le Cid and his first full-length opera, Don César de Bazan. The influence of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is clear. Massenet even quotes from his compatriot Léo Delibes' mythology-based battle-themed ballet, Sylvia. Massenet's personal identification with his protagonist Quixote also showed in his tender feelings for his original Dulcinée, Lucy Arbell, and in his anxieties about death, which, along with love, is one of the opera's key themes.
The iconic role of chevalier de la longue figure is a pinnacle for an artist with Furlanetto's legendary status as a singer and actor, with his consummate command of vocal color, emotion and intention. It provides a supreme opportunity to show the deep humanity of a character within a fairytale setting, a personage whom Furlanetto feels every man should be in life: a man, young of heart, whose age is only on the exterior; who goes weak in the knees, whether from worship of an ideal or from his age, with unrelenting passion; whose fervent prayers come straight from the heart; who with pure adoration toward life and nature unconditionally loves whatever surrounds him. In our recent interview (http://www.laopus.com/2014/03/ferruccio-furlanetto-filtering-emotion.html), Furlanetto affectingly expressed the Don's principles: "He's exactly what men should ideally be for three hours in their life: love for everything that's around us, whether it's nature, sky, air, other persons, animals."
It is difficult to imagine any other singing artist today who could so totally live this character under the skin and capture his essence - his profound sadness without regret; his appreciation of the delicatesse and sacredness of women; his ability to absolutely own his pains, joys, and rapture - with such a degree of dignity as Ferruccio Furlanetto. He creates an atmosphere so magical that he is able to dominate the stage for the entire evening, expressing his visions and dreams with an innocence belying the character's chronological age, without any pretentiousness. Furlanetto's quixotic idealism showed whether singing to Dulcinée or to Sancho Panza. Not one soupçon of imperfection surfaced in his singing. The richness never quit, even in the throes of death.
Supporting him was a duo of expert singers whose character portrayals were outstanding. Argentinean bass-baritone Eduardo Chama was the Don's perfect foil as Sancho Panza, thoroughly in synch with Furlanetto both vocally and dramatically, embodying his share of a relationship in which both characters deeply care for and respect each other. He skillfully balanced his vocal, dramatic and comedic approaches between the lighter, more Mozartean aria early in the opera and the heavier, more imposing singing required of him in the later acts. His La Donna É Mobile monologue was utterly convincing in its vocal sonorousness, consistency, and characterization. As Dulcinea, German mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung sang with spirit and vocal assuredness, effectively showing the contrasts between her character's capriciousness and her eventual ability to be touched by the depth of Quixote's soul.