San Diego Opera's 'Don Quixote'
April 4, 2014 3:09 a.m.
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes us backstage of "Don Quixote," which might be San Diego Opera’s final production.
Related Story: Will 'Don Quixote' Be San Diego Opera's Swan Song?
ANCHOR INTRO: San Diego Opera has said that this would be their final season, though that announcement has spurred a debate about whether it really needs to be. Meanwhile, there’s still a production of Don Quixote that needs to be staged. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes us backstage of what might be San Diego Opera’s final production.
QUIXOTE (ba).wav 3:59
TAG: Don Quixote opens tomorrow night at the Civic Theater. Watch Evening Edition tonight to see the behind the scenes video.
Trying to stage an opera in 3 weeks is a daunting enough task, but San Diego Opera is trying to mount its production of Don Quixote amidst the emotional turmoil of the company’s announced closure. Ironically, the announcement has caused a surge in ticket sales with only single tickets still available. But for artistic director Ian Campbell it’s too little too late.
IAN CAMPBELL: We will run out of cash before the next season that’s why this rather drastic move has had to be made.
So Don Quixote may be the company’s swan song. Inspired by Cervantes’ classic novel, the opera focuses on an old country gentleman who fancies himself a knight named Don Quixote and his well grounded servant, Sancho Panza. Campbell says Don Quixote has endeared himself to audiences as a romantic dreamer famous for tilting at windmills.
IAN CAMPBELL: Dreaming the impossible dream is what opera companies are about all the time. So tilting at windmills is what opera companies do I say we pirouette on the edge of a razor blade. One mistake and you’re out like New York City Opera.
Campbell is sounding like Sancho Panza’s realist emphasizing the practical reasons for the opera to close, but fans are taking Don Quixote’s idealistic role and petitioning the board to keep the company alive. But while all this drama is spinning off stage, singers and dancers are swirling onstage to bring Don Quixote to life.
The current production is based on a 2009 one directed by Campbell. The director now is Keturah Stickann, who was the assistant director five years ago. As a former dancer, she’s excited to take the helm of a French opera fueled by a tradition of dance.
KETURAH STICKANN: So dance in this particular piece, like Carmen, so many passages of music are dance rhythms and it’s a natural continuation of the storytelling.
In this case ten flamenco dancers infiltrate themselves into the story.
KETURAH STICKANN: I feel these dancers are just as much characters on the stage as every chorus member as every principle and so I treat them as such. Everything they do advances the story we’re telling…. I was always frustrated as a dancer onstage in an opera when the dancers were paraded on and we did our thing and then we all bowed and we left and no one ever saw us again and there was no reason for us to be there.
Fortunately her choreography Kristina Cobarrubia agrees.
KRISTINA COBARRUBIA: The dance and the singing are one and the singing is telling an emotional story and the dance is the physical embodiment of that story.
EDOUARDO CHAMA: Can you say sensual? It is very sensual, yes.
That’s baritone Edouardo Chama who plays the earthy Sancho Panza.
EDOUARDO CHAMA: It brings you to that place where there is cigarette smoke and wine and people speaking Spanish and you don’t know how that happen but that’s flamenco.
KETURAH STICKANN: It’s gonna fire everyone up.
Again director Keturah Stickann.
KETURAH STICKANN: That’s what flamenco is meant to do and that’s what it will do.
Cobarrubia does a hybridization of flamenco especially designed for opera.
KRISTINA COBARRUBIA: I do what I call flamencoized ballet or balleticized flamenco. And it makes for something fantastic because you have the percussive energy of the flamenco but then you’ve got the lifts and the elegance and the larger movements for the larger stage with the bigger house of the ballet so I love that combination.
As Stickann wonders if her production will be the last ever for San Diego Opera, she does think Don Quixote would make an appropriate finale.
KETURAH STICKANN: It’s strangely poetic. It’s about a man who has this dream about what the ideal life of a poet is and I think that all of us recognize that this is a really poetic piece to speak about arts and the continuation of the arts and what we all sort of strive for.
As the opera ends, Don Quixote converts his realist companion into an idealistic dreamer. It’s a transformation Chama hopes will extend beyond the stage.
EDOUARDO CHAMA: We all fight against windmills in our life and I think this city of San Diego needs to learn how to fight against windmills and save this opera.
San Diego Opera was scheduled to close on April 14 after the last performance of Don Quixote. The closure has since been postponed for an additional two weeks of deliberations to determine how possible or impossible this dream of opera in San Diego really is.
Fighting with windmills can leave you cast down into the mire but it can also cast you up among the stars.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.