Don Quichotte

Last updated
Don Quichotte
Opera by Jules Massenet
Georges Rochegrosse's poster for Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte.jpg
Poster by Georges Rochegrosse for the first Paris production, at the Gaîté-Lyrique in 1910
Librettist Henri Caïn
Based onLe chevalier de la longue figure
by Jacques Le Lorrain  [ fr ]
19 February 1910 (1910-02-19)

Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) is an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Caïn. It was first performed on 19 February 1910 at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.


Massenet's comédie-héroïque, like many dramatized versions of the story of Don Quixote, relates only indirectly to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The immediate inspiration was Le chevalier de la longue figure, a play by the poet Jacques Le Lorrain  [ fr ] first performed in Paris in 1904. In this version of the story, the simple farm girl Aldonza (Dulcinea) of the original novel becomes the more sophisticated Dulcinée, a flirtatious local beauty inspiring the infatuated old man's exploits.

Composition history

Conceiving originally Don Quichotte to be a three-act opera, Massenet started to compose it in 1909 at a time when, suffering from acute rheumatic pains, he spent more of his time in bed than out of it, and composition of Don Quichotte became, in his words, a sort of "soothing balm". In order to concentrate on that new work, he interrupted composition of another opera Bacchus . [1] Despite its five acts, there is under two hours of music in the opera.

Massenet identified personally with his comic-heroic protagonist, as he was in love with Lucy Arbell who sang Dulcinée at the first performance. He was then 67 and died just two years later. The role of Don Quichotte was one of the most notable achievements of the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, for whom the role was specifically conceived. The opera was one of six commissioned from Massenet by Raoul Gunsbourg for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.

Performance history

Don Quichotte was premiered in Monte Carlo on 19 February 1910, [2] followed by stagings in Brussels, Marseille and Paris, all in 1910. In 1912 it was presented at the French Opera House in New Orleans (27 January), and the London Opera House (17 May). [3] On 15 November 1913 the work was presented in Philadelphia. The Chicago premiere of the work (by the Chicago Grand Opera Company) took place at the Auditorium Theatre on 27 January 1914 and featured Vanni Marcoux and Mary Garden in the lead roles. [4] Marcoux reprised the title role in Chicago with Coe Glade during the inaugural season of the Chicago Civic Opera House in December 1929. [4] Don Quichotte received its premiere in Budapest in 1917, and the Opéra-Comique in Paris presented it in 1924 with Marcoux in the title role, Arbell and Fugère; Chaliapin sang it there in 1934. [5] The Metropolitan Opera in New York City performed it nine times in 1926, but after devastating reviews of those performances in particular, and criticisms of Massenet's music in general by Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune, the opera has never been revived at the Met. [6] It was performed by the Opera Company of Boston (staged and conducted by Sarah Caldwell) in 1974 (with Noel Tyl, Donald Gramm, and Mignon Dunn), and the New York City Opera in 1986. [6] [7]

Besides frequent and periodic revivals at Monte Carlo and in France, it was also shown with great success in Italy (Catania in 1928, Turin in 1933 (Teatro Regio), Bologna in 1952, Venice in 1982, Florence in 1992). The Polish premiere was at the Kraków Opera in 1962, and Baltic State Opera premiere was in 1969. Nicolai Ghiaurov sang the title role to great acclaim at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1974 and again in 1981,[ citation needed ] and Lyric Opera mounted the work again in 1993 with Samuel Ramey, Jean-Philippe Lafont and Susanne Mentzer.[ citation needed ] The first revival in Britain since 1912 was given by English National Opera in October 1994, with Richard Van Allan as Quixote. [8] The production was presented again in 1996. [9]

More recently, it was staged in Paris in 2000 (with Samuel Ramey in the title role), in San Diego in 2009 starring Ferruccio Furlanetto and Denyce Graves, in 2010 in Brussels with José van Dam and in Palermo with Ferruccio Furlanetto and Arutjun Kotchinian. The opera was performed at the Seattle Opera in February/March 2011 with John Relyea in the title role.}} In 2012 the Mariinsky Theatre of Saint Petersburg staged a new production, also featuring Furlanetto. [10] The Lyric Opera of Chicago mounted a newly-staged production in 2016 with sets and costumes from the San Diego production., [11] and the work was also staged by Opera Australia in Sydney in March 2018. [12]


Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role [13] Voice type Premiere cast, 19 February 1910 [14]
Conductor: Léon Jehin
La belle Dulcinée (The beautiful Dulcinea) contralto Lucy Arbell
Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) bass Feodor Chaliapin
Sancho (Sancho Panza) baritone André Gresse
Pedro ( travesti ) soprano Brienz
Garcias (travesti)sopranoBrielga
Rodriguez tenor Edmond Warnéry
JuantenorCharles Delmas
Chief of the BanditsspokenDelestang
Two valets baritones Thiriat & Borie
Four banditsspoken
Chorus: Gentry, Friends of Dulcinée, Ladies, Bandits, Crowds.


Place: Spain [15]

Act 1

A square in front of Dulcinée's house

A festival is being celebrated. Four hopeful admirers of Dulcinée serenade her from the street. Dulcinée appears and explains philosophically that being adored is not enough, 'Quand la femme a vingt ans' ('When a woman is twenty'). She withdraws and a crowd, largely of beggars, acclaim the arrival of the eccentric knight Don Quichotte (riding on his horse Rossinante) and his comic squire Sancho Panza (on a donkey). Delighted by their attention, Don Quichotte tells a reluctant Sancho to throw them money. After the crowd disperse, Don Quichotte himself serenades Dulcinée, 'Quand apparaissent les étoiles' ('When the stars begin to shine') but he is stopped by Juan, a jealous admirer of the local beauty. A sword fight follows, interrupted by Dulcinée herself. She is charmed by Don Quichotte's antique attentions, chides Juan for his jealousy and sends him away. The old man offers her his devotion and a castle. She suggests instead that he might retrieve a pearl necklace of hers stolen by Ténébrun, the bandit chief. He undertakes to do so, and Dulcinée quickly rejoins her men friends.

Feodor Chaliapin as Don Quichotte by Alexandre Jacovleff Yakovlev Shalyapin.jpg
Feodor Chaliapin as Don Quichotte by Alexandre Jacovleff

Act 2

In the countryside

A misty morning, Don Quichotte and Sancho enter with Rossinante and the donkey. Don Quichotte is composing a love poem. Sancho delivers a grand tirade against their expedition, against Dulcinée, and against women in general. 'Comment peut-on penser du bien de ces coquines' ('How can anyone think anything good of those hussies'). The mists disperse revealing a line of windmills that Don Quichotte takes for a group of giants. To Sancho's horror, Don Quichotte attacks the first one, only to be caught up in one of the sails and hoisted up in the air.

Lucien Fugere as Sancho, Paris 1910. Lucien Fugere in Massenet's Don Quichotte.jpg
Lucien Fugère as Sancho, Paris 1910.

Act 3

In the mountains

Dusk, Don Quichotte believes they are getting close to the bandits. Sancho goes to sleep while Don Quichotte stands guard. The bandits suddenly appear and after a brief fight take the knight prisoner. Sancho escapes. Surprised by the defiance of the old man, the bandits give him a beating and intend to kill him, however Don Quichotte's prayer 'Seigneur, reçois mon âme, elle n'est pas méchante' ('Lord receive my soul, it is not evil') moves Ténébrun, the bandit chief, to mercy. Don Quichotte explains his mission 'Je suis le chevalier errant' ('I am the Knight-errant'), and the necklace is returned to him. The bandits ask for the blessing of the noble knight before he leaves.

Act 4

The garden of Dulcinée's House

Music and dancing, a party is in progress, but Dulcinée is melancholy, 'Lorsque le temps d'amour a fui' ('When the time of love has gone'). Rousing herself, she snatches a guitar and sings 'Ne pensons qu'au plaisir d'aimer' ('Think just of the pleasures of love'). All retire to dinner. Sancho and Don Quichotte arrive. While waiting for Dulcinée, Sancho asks for his reward to which Don Quichotte responds with vague promises of an island, a castle, riches. Dulcinée and her party greet the knight and he returns the necklace to universal acclaim. However, when he asks her to marry him he is greeted with hysterical laughter. Taking pity, Dulcinée tells the others to leave, apologizes 'Oui, je souffre votre tristesse, et j'ai vraiment chagrin à vous désemparer' ('I share your sorrow and am truly sorry') but explains that her destiny, her way of life, is different from his. She kisses him on the forehead and leaves. But the company return to make fun of the old man. Sancho vigorously upbraids them, 'Riez, allez, riez du pauvre idéologue' ('Laugh, laugh at this poor idealist') and takes his master away.

Act 5

A mountain pass in an ancient forest

A clear starry night, Don Quichotte is dying. He remembers once promising Sancho an island as his reward, and offers him an isle of dreams, 'Prends cette île' ('Take that isle'). Nearing death, Don Quichotte looks up at a star shining brightly above and hears the voice of Dulcinée calling him to another world. Then he collapses as Sancho weeps over his body.

Related Research Articles

Mary Garden

Mary Garden was a Scottish operatic soprano with a substantial career in France and America in the first third of the 20th century. She spent the latter part of her childhood and youth in the United States and eventually became an American citizen, although she lived in France for many years and eventually retired to Scotland, where she died.

Dulcinea del Toboso

Dulcinea del Toboso is a fictional character who is unseen in Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quijote. Don Quijote believes he must have a lady, under the mistaken view that chivalry requires it. As he does not have one, he invents her, making her the very model of female perfection: "[h]er name is Dulcinea, her country El Toboso, a village of La Mancha, her rank must be at least that of a princess, since she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hairs are gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hands ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare".

Jules Massenet French composer (1842-1912)

Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer of the Romantic era best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. The two most frequently staged are Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). He also composed oratorios, ballets, orchestral works, incidental music, piano pieces, songs and other music.

<i>Le Cid</i> (opera)

Le Cid is an opera in four acts and ten tableaux by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Gallet, Édouard Blau and Adolphe d'Ennery. It is based on the play of the same name by Pierre Corneille.


Cléopâtre is an opera in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Payen. It was first performed at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo on 23 February 1914, nearly two years after Massenet's death.

Kazimierz Kord is a Polish conductor. Between 1949 and 1955, he studied piano at the Leningrad Conservatory. He also studied at the Academy of Music in Kraków.

<i>Le jongleur de Notre-Dame</i>

Le jongleur de Notre-Dame is a three-act opera by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Maurice Léna. It was first performed at the Opéra Garnier in Monte Carlo on 18 February 1902.

<i>Thérèse</i> (opera)

Thérèse is an opera in two acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Jules Claretie. While Thérèse remains among Massenet's lesser-known works, the piece has spawned a number of revivals and recordings.

Vanni Marcoux

Jean-Émile Diogène Marcoux was a French operatic bass-baritone, known professionally as Vanni Marcoux. He was particularly associated with the French and Italian repertories. His huge repertoire included an estimated 240 roles and he won renown as one of the most memorable singing-actors of the 20th century.

Lucien Fugère

Lucien Fugère was a French baritone, particularly associated with the French repertory and Mozart roles. He enjoyed an exceptionally long career, singing into his 80s.

Hector Dufranne

Hector Dufranne was a Belgian operatic bass-baritone who enjoyed a long career that took him to opera houses throughout Europe and the United States for more than four decades. Admired for both his singing and his acting, Dufranne appeared in a large number of world premieres, most notably the role Golaud in the original Opéra-Comique production of Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande at the Salle Favart in Paris in 1902, which he went on to sing 120 times at that house. He had an excellent singing technique which maintained the quality of his voice even into the latter part of his career. His wide vocal range and rich resonant voice enabled him to sing a variety of roles which encompassed French, German, and Italian opera.

Gustave Huberdeau

Gustave Huberdeau was a French operatic bass-baritone who had a prolific career in Europe and the United States during the first quarter of the twentieth century. He sang a wide repertoire encompassing material from French composers like Gounod and Massenet to the Italian grand operas of Verdi, the verismo operas of Mascagni, and the German operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. He sang in numerous premieres during his 30-year career, including the original production of Puccini's La rondine in 1917. Although possessing a rich and warm voice, Huberdeau had a talent for comedic portrayals which made him a favorite casting choice in secondary comedic roles as well as leading roles. After retiring from opera in 1927, Huberdeau remained active as a performer in stage plays and in French cinema throughout the 1930s.

Marthe Chenal

Marthe Chenal was a French operatic soprano who had an active singing career between 1905 and 1923. Although she made a number of appearances with opera companies throughout the French provinces and on the international stage, her career was mainly centered at the Palais Garnier and the Opéra-Comique in Paris. She particularly excelled in the works of Jules Massenet and was an exponent of the works of Camille Erlanger.

Lucy Arbell

Lucy Arbell, was a French mezzo-soprano whose operatic career was mainly centred in Paris and who was particularly associated with the composer Jules Massenet.

Léon Jehin

Léon Jehin was a conductor and composer, especially associated with musical life and the opera house in Monte Carlo. He also composed the national anthem of Monaco.

Alice Zeppilli French operatic singer

Alice Zeppilli was a French operatic soprano of Italian heritage who had an active international singing career from 1901 to 1930. The pinnacle of her career was in the United States where she enjoyed great popularity between 1906 and 1914; particularly in the cities of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. She was popular in Monte Carlo where she performed frequently from 1904–19 and later worked as a singing teacher after her retirement from the stage. She made only one recording, a phonograph cylinder for Columbia Records consisting of the Gavotte from Jules Massenet's Manon and Olympia's Doll Aria from Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann.

Alain Fondary is a French baritone.

Émile Colonne

Émile Colonne was a French baritone, a member of the troupe of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels.

Renée Gilly was a French operatic mezzo-soprano. She was a long-time principal member of the Opéra-Comique, where she performed leading roles such as Massenet's Charlotte, Mascagni's Santuzza, and Bizet's Carmen. She appeared in world premieres and sang as a guest at major opera houses in Europe.


  1. Massenet, Jules (1970). My Recollections. New York: Greenwood Reprinting. p. 272. ISBN   0-404-04229-5.
  2. Milnes 1992.
  3. "Don Quichotte: Massenet's Opera in London". The Manchester Guardian, 18 May 1912, p. 12
  4. 1 2 Robert C. Marsh, "150 Years of Opera in Chicago".
  5. Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900–1950) Paris: André Bonne, 1953.
  6. 1 2 Laurence Gilman, Cast of the Met premiere of Don Quichotte plus Lawrence Gilman, review from the Tribune on
  7. Donal Henahan, "Opera: Massenet's Don Qucichotte is revived", The New York Times , August 3, 1986
  8. Milnes, Rodney. "Knight of pure spectacle", The Times , 10 October 1994, p. 14
  9. Milnes, Rodney. "Opera", The Times , 4 September 1996, p. 34
  10. "Massenet's Don Quixote premieres at the Mariinsky", 28 December 2012, on
  11. "Don Quichotte", 2016–17 season
  12. Don Quichotte, 2018 performance details, Opera Australia
  13. Massenet 1910 , p.  8; Macdonald 2001 , p. 552; Milnes 1992 , p. 1227, lists Sancho Panza as a bass-baritone role, Dulcinée as a mezzo-soprano, and Le chef des bandits as a baritone.
  14. Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Don Quichotte, 19 February 1910" . L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  15. This synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published on and appears here by permission.


Further reading