Don Quichotte

Unlike Puccini, his only rival in popularity during his career, Jules Massenet's method was sentiment and poetry rather than dramatic thrust; opera's master patissier, he skillfully pushed—caressed, really—emotional buttons with a velvet glove. If that sounds like an odd fit for Cervantes' sprawling picaresque, Massenet distilled the novel to the story of the knight errant's unrequited love for the lady Dulcinee, and drew from it a subtly bittersweet study of disillusionment. By the time he wrote the piece, in 1910, two years before his death, he knew how to make even a soft, sustained background string chord tell emotionally. His serenade for the Don in Act 1 recurs as a musical reminder of Dulcinee; its slowly descending outline is echoed in many of the opera's melodies, making them sound like so many feathers drifting gently to the ground. Seattle Opera's production emphasizes the opera's literary ancestry. Pertinent quotes from Cervantes (in translation) are projected on the scrim before each scene. In the title role (in the Wednesday/Saturday cast), John Relyea beautifully suggests the poignancy of a man whose aged body is unable to match the youthfulness of his bravery and chivalry. Quichotte's squire Sancho Panza is tasked with making a challenging transition from comic relief to the pathos of his master's death scene; Eduardo Chama does so effectively. GAVIN BORCHERT

Wednesdays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fri., March 11, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Feb. 26. Continues through March 12, 2011

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