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Will ‘Don Quixote’ Be San Diego Opera’s Swan Song?

Company Stages Production Under Cloud Of Closure

Evening Edition

Above: KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando goes backstage of "Don Quixote," which may be the final production of San Diego Opera.

Aired 4/4/14 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes us backstage of "Don Quixote," which might be San Diego Opera’s final production.

Transcript

San Diego Opera has said that this will be its 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.

Trying to stage an opera in three 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.

"We will run out of cash before the next season that’s why this rather drastic move has had to be made," Campbell said.

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.

"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 said.

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 opera's 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.

"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," Stickann said.

Credit: Ken Howard

"Don Quixote" is an opera in which dance is an integral part.

In this case, 10 flamenco dancers infiltrate themselves into the story.

"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," Stickann said. "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 choreographer, Kristina Cobarrubia, agrees.

"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," Cobarrubia said.

Baritone Edouardo Chama plays the earthy Sancho Panza. He said flamenco is very sensual. "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," Chama said.

"It’s gonna fire everyone up," Stickann added. "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. "I do what I call flamencoized ballet or balleticized flamenco," she said. "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.

"It’s strangely poetic," she said. "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."

Credit: Ken Howard

Tilting at windmills with Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Quixote and bass baritone Eduardo Chama as Sancho Panza in San Diego Opera's "Don Quixote."

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.

"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," Chama said.

San Diego Opera was scheduled to close on April 14 after the last performance of "Don Quixote." The opera company's 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.

The Save the Opera Campaign can be found online at savesandiegoopera.org. And on Facebook and on Twitter @savesdopera.

The petition, which now has more than 20,000 signatures, can be found online.

"Don Quixote" opens Saturday night at the Civic Theater and has performances on April 8, 11 and 13.

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