This May 2010 production of Massenet's 1910 opera "Don Quichotte" marked the opera's centenary and also Jose Van Dam's operatic farewell at the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels. It is beautiful in every way--vocally, scenically, sonically, and visually--and a worthy record of Van Dam's farewell. Van Dam is just shy of 70 in this production, but you would never guess it from his singing or stage movements--a consummate artist. His is a noble portrayal and deeply moving. The Act V death scene is a model of beautiful singing and acting. Spanish mezzo Silvia Tro Santafe is a glittering Dulcinee, with a wonderfully flexible voice and a very pleasing vibrato. Her experience in baroque opera serves her well in this role, full of rhythmic complexities and subtle ornamentation. She nails the difficult music Massenet conceived for this character. Werner Van Mechelen is a beautiful Sancho Panza; his Act IV defense of his humiliated master is extremely affecting and wonderfully sung. Bernard Villiers does a fine job in the brief but important role of the Chef des Bandits. And Dulcinee's four suitors, Julie Mossay, Camille Mercks, Gijs van der Linden, and Vincent Delhoum, although newcomers, are excellent and light up the stage whenever they appear. Marc Minkowski conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Monnaie Opera with total commitment and command and emphasizes the score's extreme tautness and brilliant color.
This DVD is a joy to watch and listen to--excellent sound quality for both singers and orchestra and beautifully filmed. The cinematography in particular is refreshing: no jarring cuts to closeups and instead frequent shots of the entire stage, making it possible to imagine how the performance looked to an audience member. Laurent Pelly's whimsical set design--gigantic mounds of paper signifying, by turns, Dulcinee's love letters and the romantic novels that Don Quichotte has dwelt on--was simple but hardly simplistic. Who would have thought that piles of paper could look so handsome on a stage? Ms. Tro Santafe manages to slither down the mound of love letters all the while maintaining her vocal and physical poise--great job!
Also included is an excellent film detailing the auditions, rehearsals, costume creation and set design that culminated in the performance. Van Dam is a thoughtful narrator of the film, with generous samplings of Pelly, the chorus master, orchestra members, etc. The DVD's packaging is unusually fine, too, and includes a handsome 50-page booklet with essays and bios (in French and English), together with lovely still photos of the production.
The whole package is one of the best conceived opera DVDs I've seen. It is very satisfying to see Van Dam's great artistry and that of his fellow cast members matched by the efforts of so many individuals who were involved in the production and staging of these performances. Massenet's (regrettably) seldom-performed opera could not have looked or sounded better than it does in this DVD.