United States Telemann, Don Quixote at Camacho’s Wedding: Soloists, Opera Saratoga Young Artists & Orchestra / Michelle Rofrano (conductor). Columbia Pavilion, Saratoga Springs State Park, NY, 14.7.2021. (RP)
Director – Rebecca Miller Kratzer
Don Quixote – Titus Muzi/Joel Balzun
Sancho – Aiden Smerud
Quiteria – Lisa Buhelos
Grisotomo – Jouelle Roberson
Pedrillo – Whitney Robinson
Camacho – Lauren Cook
Basilio – Jeremiah Tyson
Saratoga Opera presented a rare excursion into German Baroque opera with a Telemann serenata, Don Quixote at Camacho’s Wedding. The third (and final) of the German composer’s three works inspired by Cervantes’s novel, the serenata was composed in 1761 when Telemann was 80 years old. The other works are the Don Quixote Suite, also known as Ouverture burlesque sur Don Quichotte, for string orchestra and cembalo from 1721, and Sancio, the opera he composed six years later.
For Don Quixote at Camacho’s Wedding, Telemann set a song poem by the Hamburg poet Daniel Schiebeler, who was sixty years his junior. The libretto was based on an episode in the second part of the novel, in which Don Quixote and Sancho happen upon the wedding of the beautiful Quiteria to Camacho, a wealthy sheep farmer. She, however, is in love with Basilio, her childhood sweetheart who is poor, and her father has forbidden her to marry him.
Just as the wedding ceremony is to commence, Basilio rushes onto the scene with a dagger in his breast. His dying wish is to marry Quiteria as the last act of his desperate and seemingly fatal love. Camacho reluctantly consents to the odd request after being convinced that this is just a temporary inconvenience and is the compassionate thing to do. No sooner does the priest pronounce the tragic couple man and wife than Basilio pulls the dagger from his breast and reveals that it was all just a ruse to win the hand of Quiteria.
Camacho seeks revenge, but Don Quixote persuades him that Heaven has decreed the young lovers be united. The newlyweds joyously return to their village where Camacho commands that the festivities proceed as planned. As the merrymaking commences, Don Quixote again takes up his quest for adventure, with Sancho grumbling that he has been deprived of enjoying the feast.
This performance took place in an outdoor pavilion at Saratoga Springs State Park. A large fire pit (minus the oxen stuffed with suckling pigs that makes Sancho’s mouth water in the novel) dominated the space, which was decorated with banners and surrounded by tables set for the festivities. It was basic but little more was required to set the scene.
The four instrumentalists – two violins, cello and electric keyboard – and conductor Michelle Rofrano were behind the audience. The pavilion had surprisingly good acoustics, and balance was never an issue. The electronic sounds replicating the harpsichord were good enough for these ears and spared all concerned with the endless tuning that would have otherwise been necessary on a hot and humid evening.
Don Quixote at Camacho’s Wedding does not find the knight errant engaged in some delusional flight of chivalric fancy but rather in a more philosophical mood. When he isn’t chiding Sancho for any number of faults, the two engage in verbal jousts as to whether a poor man should marry above his station in life, and which of the two men would be better suited to wed Quiteria. Telemann composed some very entertaining music for Sancho who is, in many ways, the lead character. As fate would have it, due to the indisposition of Titus Muzi who was scheduled to sing Don Quixote, Aiden Smerud as Sancho pretty much stole the show.
Smerud was excellent as the sad-faced, hapless Sancho. He was the most at ease on stage, and his bass-baritone was ideally suited to capture Sancho’s many moods and to give voice to the vivid description of past exploits that Telemann depicts so brilliantly in the music, especially the ups and downs of a ride on a magic carpet. Truth be told, Smerud would have made just as fine a Don Quixote with minor tweaks of character and costume.
Muzi appeared on stage as Don Quichotte, but Joel Balzun sang the role from the side of the pavilion. Balzun did a commendable job: he was obviously well versed in the role, and his polished baritone is a particularly fine instrument. Balzun was also a sport, and he donned a hat and joined the chorus in the dancing and singing, which was his original assignment in this performance.
The other roles are relatively minor and featured Festival Artists from Opera Saratoga’s Young Artist Program, which is the second oldest training program for emerging professional singers in America. As Grisotomo, soprano Jouelle Roberson displayed a rich, cultivated voice and had lovely diction. Mezzo-soprano Whitney Robinson also made an impact, although her gleaming voice and ebullience brought to mind a Valkyrie rather than a Spanish shepherdess.