Friday, 22 April 2016


Engraving of Don Quixote by Gustave Doré
Today’s aria comes to us from French composer Jules Massenet’s “Don Quichotte,” a 5-act opera based on the stageplay by poet Jacques Le Lorrain "Le Chevalier de la Longue Figure," itself inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

April 22nd marks the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death, who passed away from type-2 diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 68 at Madrid. This entry is written in honor of Cervantes’s impressive impact on the world of classical music and fine arts.

Cervantes was (and is) renowned by many members of literary and artistic circles as one of the greatest Spanish writers to have ever lived thanks in part to the publication of his groundbreaking tome Don Quixote in 1605 and 1615 (published in two volumes) – noted by many contemporary and modern writers as the first “novel” ever written. Don Quixote would go on to influence many a great artist, branching out from the literary world into theater, ballet, film and opera. It is not difficult to understand why Cervantes' magnum opus would inspire so many an artist: the works’ subject matter covers a wide range of emotion - from comical to plaintive, to adventurous and romantic, Don Quixote offers something for every mood. 

The novels’ plotline consists of an aging hidalgo (a minor Spanish noble) who, after having immersed himself so thoroughly in reading books of chivalric romance, falls victim to madness as he begins to fancy himself a knight errant (a knight on horseback who roams the countryside seeking out honorable duels and other chivalric exploits) and who combats evil in the name of his ladyloveDulcinea del Toboso (Dulcinea, much like the many "duels" Quixote encounters throughout the novel are in fact a figment of the ailing noble’s imagination as he slowly begins sink further into the abyss of insanity).

Of the many artistic interpretations of Cervantes’ work, the French Romantic composer Jules Massenet’s 1910 opera Don Quichotte would be perhaps the most well known musical adaptations of the novel.

Miguel de Cervantes
While Massenet’s Quichotte does not faithfully adhere to Cervantes’ plotline (in Quichotte, the lady Dulcinea is somewhat of a man-eater, who is courted not only by Don Quixote but rather the entire district: so mesmerized by her great beauty are the townsmen, Dulcinea finds herself breaking many a heart as she continues to be chased by one suitor to the next in the operas first and penultimate movements). The work’s second act preserves the famous “windmill” scene from the original novel, where, accompanied by his trusty and stout sidekick Sancho, Quixote and Rocinante (the name given by Quixote to his aging horse – who he “sees” as vibrant, and in the flower of his youth) ride upon a series of windmills, which appear before the delusional knight errant  as "giants," which he proceeds to engage in a foiled and very clumsy duel to the death. The characters and their origins are also kept intact, while Dulcinea's (Dulcinée’s) curious indifference to the adventures of her courter as presented in Cervantes’ novel is presented not with a sense of insouciance in Massenet’s version - instead the fickle-hearted object of Quichotte's affections is portrayed rather as a cohort of sorts: the lady Dulcinée seeks out her sire's noble duty as a knight errant to retrieve for her a stolen necklace, which spurns on the mad hero to take to his trusty Rocinante to engage in the first of his chivalric adventures: search and seizure, by any means necessary.

In the duet below, a desperate Don Quichotte, fresh from his chivalric exploits, presents to Dulcinée her necklace, which the knight errant had secured from the thieves by way of oration and sentiment over having engaged in physical battle. Filled to the brim with a sense of satisfaction from a job well done (with perhaps a soupçon of cockiness), the Don confidently walks through a crowd of suitors to reach Dulcinée, and, imagining the object of his affections will be so bowled over by the return of her property that she will have fallen in love with the hopeful noble, Quichotte begs for the hand of his ladylove in marriage.

In a tender exchange between courter and courtee, the lady Dulcinée attempts to gently let down her admirer, which only makes the broken Quichotte fall more hopelessly in love after bearing witness to her sympathetic nature:

Listen below to “Oui, je souffre votre tristesse” (“Yes, I suffer your sorrow”) from Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte, as sung by mezzo-soprano Régine Crespin and bass Nicolai Ghiaurov:

Did You Know?
  • So well received was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, it actually spurned on the creation of a new word based on the titular character of the epic novel. The dictionary Merriam-Webster lists the adjective as such:

Full Definition of quixotic

1 : foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action

2 : capricious, unpredictable
  • Miguel de Cervantes (full name Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra) worked with the infamous Spanish Armada as a requisition official until it’s defeat by the English under Queen Elizabeth I in 1588.


Further Reading:


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