Don Quixote – San Diego Opera and The Windmills of Change

There was little warning that when this opera was scheduled years ago that it would be the poignant final production of the San Diego Opera.  Having become one of the country’s top ten opera companies over the course of its 49 years, the board determined that it could not in good faith plan for its 50th year.

The issue was loss in revenue, not growth in expenses. The budget was reduced from $17.4 million in 2007 to $15 million this year. Falling contributions and box office revenue painted a clear picture of the future.

As a result, this magnificent production about tilting at windmills will go down in the annals of opera as one of the most bittersweet denouements ever.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is Don Quixote in San Diego Opera's DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is Don Quixote in San Diego Opera’s DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

Ferruccio Furlanetto, the sterling Italian bass, plays the title role with aplomb. He inhabits the persona of noble knight errant as if reincarnated from the character introduced by Cervantes in his 1615 novel. His faithful manservant Sancho Panza is also a bass, in this case the Argentinian Eduardo Chama. Both work fluidly together, and purse Quixote’s quest to win the favor of Dulcinea (ably performed by German mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung).

Mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung is Dulcinea in San Diego Opera's DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

Mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung is Dulcinea in San Diego Opera’s DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

With four sycophantic suitors always at Dulcinea’s side, Quixote is sent by her to retrieve a stolen necklace. When the impossible dream of winning her heart by collecting the purloined item seems within reach, Quixote is thwarted.  Heartbroken, he wanders off to his demise.

Composer Jules Massenet apparently modeled the love story after his own fantasy love affair with a singer decades younger.

A Spanish courtyard scene from San Diego Opera's DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

A Spanish courtyard scene from San Diego Opera’s DON QUIXOTE, April 2014. Photo copyright Ken Howard.

The San Diego Opera’s production is sumptuous, revealing no corners cut. The main action takes place in Dulcinea’s courtyard, but the trek to fetch the necklace brings Quixote face to face with giant monsters. These of course are the famous windmills, which are effectively portrayed on stage.

Conductor Karen Keltner was in command of the orchestra, balancing the strains of Spanish motifs with the robust themes of the score.

After a nearly half century of ambitious productions, featuring many of the brightest stars (Domingo, Sills, Sutherland, Pavarotti, Fleming), the San Diego Opera has seen its final curtain call.


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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