Don Quichotte (Opera Australia)

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Michael Halliwell Tuesday, 20 March 2018
Published in ABR Arts

Desdemona’s plangent, soaring phrase at the end of the ‘Willow Song’ in Verdi’s penultimate opera, Otello, has been described as the last despairing cry of the bel canto. After many years of relentless tragedies, Verdi’s final opera, Falstaff, would be a bubbling and effervescent comedy – only his second in his illustrious career. Yet it is autumnal work as well. The great actress Eleanor Duse, mistress of Verdi’s librettist Arrigo Boito, observed: com’ è triste la tua commedia (‘how sad your comedy is’) with its melancholy tinge and profound sense of the end of an era. Puccini and the verismo composers were looming large and they would take Italian opera in a new direction which would end with Puccini’s unfinished Turandot in 1924.

A similar claim might possibly be made for the final scene in Jules Massenet’s comédie héroïque, Don Quichotte. Sancho Panza’s brief Act V arioso: ‘Ô mon maître, ô mon grand!’ (‘O my master, o my great!’), is a moving farewell to the age of chivalry, but might also be seen as a farewell to French Romantic opera. Rather than the soaring tones of a soprano or tenor, it has the rich, dark warmth of the bass voice. There is a parallel with Verdi’s scene in Otello in that the introduction to the scene is sounded in the low strings, which creates a gloomy and foreboding atmosphere.

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Published in ABR Arts
Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell studied literature and music at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, at the London Opera Centre, and with Tito Gobbi in Florence. He has sung in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia and was principal baritone for many years with the Netherlands Opera, the Nürnberg Municipal Opera, and the Hamburg State Opera singing over fifty major operatic roles, including several world premiere productions. He has served as Chair of Vocal Studies and Opera, Pro-Dean and Head of School, and Associate Dean (Research) at the Sydney Conservatorium. He is President of the International Association for Word and Music Studies. His publications include the monographs, Opera and the Novel (Rodopi: 2005); and National Identity on Contemporary Australian Opera: myths reconsidered (Routledge, 2018), as well as many chapters and articles. He still performs regularly and recent CDs include When the Empire Calls (ABC Classics, 2005); O for a Muse of Fire: Australian Shakespeare Settings (Vox Australis, 2013); Amy Woodforde-Finden: The Oriental Song-Cycles (Toccata Classics, 2014); That Bloody Game; Australian WWI Songs (Wirripang, 2015).