Don Quixote Postcard

San Francisco Classical Voice – Island City Opera Flips Poster and Repertory

  • Janos Gereben

Having text and art going different ways on the poster for Island City Opera’s production of Massenet’s Don Quixote mirrors a newborn company’s daring in its third season, getting away from the usual warhorses.

Small companies, especially young ones, usually rely on proven audience favorites to fill seats. Don Quixote (Don Quichotte) is not a warhorse; it was popular only for a while in Europe a century ago, and only when Feodor Chaliapin sang the title role. It’s too bad because the opera has some of Massenet’s most substantial music, almost on par with the much more performed Manon and Werther.

The five-act (but only two-hour-long) comédie-héroïque premiered in 1910, with Chaliapin. (Massenet, who wrote the opera while ill, died less than two years later.) Chaliapin, as the Woebegone Knight, also triumphed in the 1933 film, with music by Jacques Ibert. There was a bit of a scandal when Maurice Ravel, Marcel Delannoy, Manuel de Falla, and Darius Milhaud were also asked to write songs for Chaliapin, but each composer was made to think only he had been approached.

Island City Opera’s home in the Alameda Elks Lodge Ballroom will be the venue for performances of Don Q on March 3, 5, 10, and 12. It is produced by company founder/ board chair Eileen Meredith, directed by Igor Vieira, and conducted by Philip Kuttner. Bill Pickersgill sings the title role, Buffy Baggott is Dulcinée, and Vieira is Sancho Panza.

The company’s season opens with another Don – Don Pasquale by Donizetti, in the Elks Lodge on Jan. 20, 22, 27, and 29. Meredith is producing, Erin Neff is stage director, Kuttner conducts. The title role is sung by Bojan Knezevic, Meredith is Norina, Sergio Gonzalez is Ernesto, Vieira sings Malatesta.

Back to the poster, Island City Opera board member Robert Boyd, who designed it, explains:

<blockquote>It started out as a postcard. Imagine that you hand someone the postcard. They naturally turn it so that the face is right-side up. They read “Don Quixote” at the top. Then they notice that the date and location are written at the bottom, upside down. So, they spin the card around, read the date and location.

But, the upside-down face is a bit disconcerting. So, then, they spin it around again. And, what does all that spinning remind you of? The windmill vane, of course. The first person I handed it to spun the card around a couple times and then said, ‘Oh, someone has over-thought this.’ I think people get the joke pretty quickly.