An enchanting evening with Don Quixote and Nureyev at the Opéra!

This production of “Don Quixote” that we saw just before Christmas at the Opéra Bastille had a wonderfully festive feel – joyful, spirited, full of humour and sumptuous scenery. Nureyev’s chorography of Marius Petitpas’ libretto turned this timeless literary classic into an enchanting spectacle.

Who doesn’t know the story and misadventures of “Don Quixote de la Mancha”, the ingenious nobleman who sprang from Cervantes’ imagination in the 17th century? The idealistic antihero, who is both ridiculous and grandiose, head-in-the-clouds and at odds with the world around him. We all remember his picaresque departure on his old horse Rocinante, with a shaving basin strapped to his head for a hat in search of idealistic love with his Dulcinea, the woman of his dreams, in the company of his groom Sancho Panza (who is represented as a plump monk by Nureyev) on his donkey. Not to mention his battles with windmills!

Mérimée, Bizet, Manet, artists, novelists, painters and choreographers have all drawn liberal inspiration from this legendary character that 19th century fantasy and hispanomania made so popular.

The episode of the novel chosen by Marius Petitpas and modified by Nureyev shows the happier side of the story, with tumultuous love affairs and the wedding of Kitri the innkeeper’s daughter and Basil the barber, celebrated with a wild party, complete with whirling gypsies and beautiful Andalusian women in shimmering costumes. Dozens of dancers filled stage, and even the extras had a role to play in the great, noisy, joyful Barcelona square. It was variety theatre, capturing the important moments in the story and pulling it all off with zest and humour. Rudolf Nureyev was a lover of theatre, and introduced into his staging music-hall effects and the spirit of the commedia dell’arte, giving the show a playful character that left us utterly charmed.

By Héléna Rollet