Project Description

East of La Mancha:

A Gala Concert in Commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of the Death of Miguel de Cervantes

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall
Date: 9 November, 2016 (Wednesday) 7:30PM

“Don Quixote” down the musical ages

In a village of La Mancha whose name I prefer not to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those that keep an old shield and a lance in a rack… So begins the great novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Cervantes, like his contemporary William Shakespeare—they died within a day of each other, exactly 400 years ago in 1616—came to personify the literature not just of his country but of an entire language. The protagonist of his eponymous novel is one of the very few literary figures to have slipped the bonds of the printed page to take on lives of their own — Don Quixote’s compatriot Don Juan is another. Don Quixote has even entered the language as an adjective: “quixotic”.

Don Quixote was published in Madrid in 1605. Translations came almost immediately, as did a bogus sequel that prompted Cervantes to write a second part himself in 1615, which now completes the novel. The timeless story of the elderly, upstanding and gently mad knight-errant and his faithful squire Sancho—a world where dreams dreamt hard enough become real— proved irresistible not just to readers but also other artists. It has inspired a raft of paintings, drawing, plays, films, operas, ballets, instrumental and vocal music.

Musical adaptations go back to the seventeenth century. Henry Purcell wrote songs for The Comical History of Don Quixote, a three-part (and seven hour!) dramatization. Although rarely performed, some pieces such as From rosy bow’rs remain popular. The Venetian Antonio Caldara wrote two operas: Don Chisciotte in Corte della Duchessa (1727) and Sancio Panza Governatore dell’isola Barattaria (1733). Both Giovanni Paisiello and Antonio Salieri wrote operas within a year of each other: Don Chiosciotte della Mancia (1769) and Don Chiosciotte alle nozze di Gamace (1770) respectively. The story of Don Quixote at Camacho’s wedding was picked up by Georg Philipp Telemann whose one act comic operetta or serenata Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Camacho dates from 1761. Felix Mendelssohn composed an opera Die Hochzeit des Camacho, based on the same section of the novel, in 1827.

But the most famous musical narrative works derived from Don Quixote are surely the ballet by Léon Minkus, which premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi in 1869, the 1910 opera by Jules Massenet—who had already reached for classical Spanish sources for his 1885 opera Le Cid—and, probably most widely known of all, the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. All of these deviate considerably from the book by providing a much greater role for Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s entirely imaginary lady, or at least for Aldonza Lorenzo, the peasant girl whom Don Quixote imagines to be her.

Instrumentally, Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite, which incorporates music from his opera, and Richard Strauss’s 1989 tone poem for cello and orchestra are among the two best-known orchestral works.

The land of Don Quixote’s birth is, somewhat ironically, musically best-known not for a full-length work but for the innovative 1923 one-act puppet-opera El retablo de maese Pedro by Manuel de Falla which, like many works, is based on a single chapter of Cervantes’s long novel.

It was inevitable that Don Quixote’s world at some point enter the popular mainstream. The original Broadway musical Man of La Mancha premiered in 1965 and ran for 2,328 performances. It has been revived multiple times, translated into many languages and was made into a film.

From this wealth of material, we have chosen a century’s worth of Don Quixote-themed lyricism from opera to musical, from Spanish zarzuela to French art song. Several of the pieces have never before been performed in Hong Kong.

Programme

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
Reading from ‘Don Quixote’
Nicole Garbellini
MAURICE RAVEL
Trois chansons de Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Chanson romanesque
Chanson épique
Chanson à boire
Sammy Chien, baritone
Alexander Wong, piano

The first sound film of Don Quixote was the 1933 adaptation by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, starring the great Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin. Pabst commissioned five different composers—Jacques Ibert, Maurice Ravel, Marcel Delannoy, Manuel de Falla and Darius Milhaud—to write a song series for Chaliapin to perform in the film, without informing any of the composers that the others had also been approached.

Maurice Ravel’s “Don Quichotte a Dulcinée” would be his last composition; it was in fact written from his sick-bed. He was however too ill to meet the deadline, and Ibert’s submission (performed later in this programme) was chosen instead. The result strained the friendship between the two composers and Ravel considered suing the producers. But Ravel’s three songs have their debut anyway the following year, sung by baritone Martial Singher at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet.

In “Chanson romanesque”, Don Quixote proclaims his love for Dulcinea by swearing to grant her every wish, or die in the attempt. In “Chanson épique”, Don Quixote solemnly prays to Saint Michel to aid in his defence of his lady and asks that his blade be blessed by a beam from Heaven: D’un rayon du ciel bénissez ma lame. The last, “Chanson à boire”, is a buoyant drinking song: Je bois à la joie! — “I drink to joy!”

Ravel (1875-1937) came from the Pays basque near the Spanish border; his mother had grown up in Madrid. The influence of Spain is evident in these songs.

LOCAL POETS
Reading from ‘Quixotica: Poems East of La Mancha’
Nicole Garbellini

A collection of poems by both award-winning and emerging poets from Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and beyond, Quixotica illustrates how Don Quixote continues to inspire and illuminate across oceans and centuries.

This evening’s selections are from some of Hong Kong’s best-known English-language poets. These include a cycle of three poems by Viki Holmes in which she re-imagines Dulcinea. followed by three poems by Page Richards (“An offering to the one who properly goes mad”), Kate Rogers (“My father and Don Quixote”) and Tammy Ho Lai-Ming (“Books as wild grass”), in which the themes of Don Quixote are brought forward to illuminate the present-day.

RODOLFO HALFFTER
Tres epitafios
Para la sepultura de Don Quijote
Para la sepultura de Dulcinea
Para la sepultura de Sancho Panza
Musica Viva Singers
Felix Shuen, conductor

Spanish composer Rodolfo Halffter (1900- 1987), hailing from a family whose members remain musically active today, was Music Secretary for the Propaganda Ministry in the 1930s Republican Government. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) he went into exile to Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1987. His brother Ernesto, also a composer, had been on the other side, and stayed in Spain. Halffter was able to return to Spain from the 1960s and in 1986 was awarded Spain’s Premio Nacional de Música.

Hallfter was not alone in being exiled to Mexico, where Cervantes became one of the expatriates’ cultural touchstones. The text for Halffter’s “Three epitaphs” comes from imagined, and somewhat ironic, funerary inscriptions in the novel itself. They are labelled “Para la sepultura de” (“For the tomb of”) Don Quijote, Dulcinea and Sancho Panza respectively.

It isn’t possible to separate Halffter’s opus from the effects of his exile. This work harks back to the solidity of a sixteenth-century Spain — including references to music of the period — as a comment on the regime from which the composer had been exiled.

JULES MASSENET
Scènes de l’opéra ‘Don Quichotte’
Aire de Dulcinée: Quand la femme a vingt ans
Aire de Don Quichotte: Quand apparaissent les étoiles
Duo: Don Quichotte et la belle Dulcinée (Et c’est dans la fleur… dans la fleur de tes lèvres!)
Carol Lin, mezzo soprano
Isaac Droscha, bass-baritone
Natalia Tokar, piano

Composed towards the end of his life, Don Quichotte is the last of the operas of Jules Massenet (1842-1912) that is performed with any regularity. In Massenet’s version of the story, the farm girl Aldonza of the original novel becomes the far less simple Dulcinée, a flirtatious local beauty. As is sometimes the case, art imitated life: Massenet, who was 67 was in love with Lucy Arbell who sang Dulcinée at the first performance. The role of Don Quichotte was specifically conceived for Feodor Chaliapin who starred in the film more than twenty years later.

In “Quand la femme a vingt ans” (“When a woman is twenty”) Dulcinée sings that riches and tributes are very well, but that le temps d’amour s’enfuit—the time for love is fleeting.

Don Quichotte’s ode to Dulcinée is “Quand apparaissent les étoiles”(“When the stars appear, when night veils the land from the depths of the heavens, I pray to your eyes!”) Dulcinée then appears for a duet that has no counterpart in the novel. Don Quichotte sings to her poetically of la fleur de tes lèvres!—“the flowers of your lips”—and she flirts with him encouragingly, enjoying the attention and finally sends him off on a quest, as a preuve d’amour…—“test of love”.

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
Reading from ‘Don Quixote’
Nicole Garbellini
RUPERTO CHAPÍ
En el cielo de Oriente la luna raya
from the Zarzuela ‘La Venta de Don Quijote’
Samuel Huang, tenor
Alexander Wong, piano

Ruperto Chapí (1851-1909) was one of the foremost composers of the Spanish national op- era known as zarzuela. Reportedly the composer’s favourite of his many zarzuelas, with a libretto from his frequent collaborator Carlos Fernández Shaw, the one-act La venta de Don Quijote takes place in a mill. Present are a priest, his niece, a barber and the housekeeper of a certain Alonso Quijano who had vanished from his house a few days earlier in the company of his friend Sancho Panza. Who should arrive shortly but Don Alonso, now Don Quixote, with his “squire” Sancho, mistaking the mill for a castle and the landlady for a spellbound princess. Cervantes himself is a guest at the inn, and witness to the scene which inspires him to write his great novel.

In the short aria En el cielo de Oriente la luna raya (“The moon shines in the Eastern sky”), a shepherd offstage sings how the face of one the girls of the village resembles the moon. While short, the piece is an excellent introduction to the particular rhythms of Spanish zarzuela.

FRANCISCO ASENJO BARBIERI
Quien menoscabe mis bienes
Ovillejo from incidental music to the drama ‘Don Quijote de la Mancha’
Samuel Huang, tenor
Alexander Wong, piano

In 1861, the Real Academia Española commissioned successful playwright Ventura de la Vega to produce a new theatrical version of Don Quijote de la Mancha to be performed on the anniversary of Cervantes’s death. The composer Francisco Asenjo Barbieri (1823-94), another great name of Spanish zarzuela, provided one musical number for each act.

The romantic tenor aria “¿Quién menoscaba mis bienes?”, sung by the character Cardenas in Act I, is a love poem taken from the novel. It takes the form of an ovillejo: three pairs of rhyming long and short lines (known as pies quebrados, or “broken feet”) followed by a rhyming quatrain. Cardenas is a love-lorn poet found barefoot and bedraggled by Don Quixote and Sancho, pining for Luscinda.

LOCAL POETS
Reading from ‘Quixotica: Poems East of La Mancha’
Nicole Garbellini

A collection of poems by both award-winning and emerging poets from Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and beyond, Quixotica illustrates how Don Quixote continues to inspire and illuminate across oceans and centuries.

This evening’s selections are from some of Hong Kong’s best-known English-language poets. These include a cycle of three poems by Viki Holmes in which she re-imagines Dulcinea. followed by three poems by Page Richards (“An offering to the one who properly goes mad”), Kate Rogers (“My father and Don Quixote”) and Tammy Ho Lai-Ming (“Books as wild grass”), in which the themes of Don Quixote are brought forward to illuminate the present-day.

JACQUES IBERT
Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte
Chanson du départ
Chanson a Dulcinée
Chanson du Duc
Chanson de la mort
Isaac Droscha, bass-baritone
Natalia Tokar, piano

These four songs by French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) went on to feature in the 1933 film, starring Chaliapin.

The text for the first, “Chanson du départ” (“Song for the departure of Don Quixote”) is by sixteenth-century poet Pierre de Ronsard. It tells of a castle and knightly virtue and has deliberate antique flourishes. The other three songs have texts by contemporaneous poet Alexandre Arnoux. In the “Chanson à Dulcinée”, Don Quixote sings about being apart from Dulcinea. He continues his praise of Dulcinea in the “Chanson du duc” (“Song for the Duke”). And in “Chanson de la mort” (“Song of Death”), he implores Sancho not to cry for him: Ne pleure pas Sancho, ne pleure pas, mon bon.

MITCH LEIGH
Selections from the Musical ‘Man of La Mancha’
I, Don Quixote
Aldonza
Dulcinea
What do you want of me?
The Impossible Dream
Joyce Wong, soprano
Sammy Chien, baritone
Alexander Wong, piano

This Broadway musical, with music from Mitch Leigh (1928-2014), is based on Dale Wasserman’s teleplay I, Don Quixote. It takes the form of a play within a play, with the author Miguel de Cervantes having been thrown in prison. The recital concludes with the best known selections from this ever-popular example of musical theatre.

In “I, Don Quixote”, the elderly knight sings of his duty: “I am I, Don Quixote the Lord of La Mancha; my destiny calls and I go…” In “Aldonza”, the object of Don Quixote’s chivalric affections protests that “I am not your lady! I am not any kind of a lady! I was spawned in a ditch by a mother who left me there…”

In “Dulcinea”, Don Quixote sings to Aldonza, who is still trying to convince him of her true identity: “Dulcinea… Dulcinea… I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea…” She protests in “What Do You Want Of Me?” and asks Don Quixote “Why try to be what nobody can be?”

And no concert would be complete without “The Impossible Dream”. Aldonza asks “Why do you do these things?” and Don Quixote famously replies “To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go…”

The set ends with the duet, “Odi l’aura che dolce sospira” from the azione teatrale, La pace fra la virtù e la bellezza (theatrical action: The Peace brtween Virtue and Beauty) of 1738. Here, Beethoven exquisitely depicts the rustling breezes and roaring waves in the piano. Against this backdrop, the singers echo one another of the delight and sorrow brought by love.

Artists

Programme Note

Please refer to the notes embedded in “Programme”.