Don Quixote is alive and well at Northwest Puppet Center

Just as Cervantes’ Don Quixote vacillates between reality and chimera, so does the Don shift seamlessly between man and puppet in Northwest Puppet Center’s production of Telemann’s opera “Don Quixote,” which opened Friday night and continues through next weekend.

NW Puppets departs from the usual production where a small stage contains puppets manipulated from above or below or by shadow against a backdrop, the puppeteers unseen.

Here, they use the whole stage, everything visible—puppeteers, strings and all—and real life transposing to the delusional and back.

Telemann’s opera, in German, is brief, just the Don’s experiences at the wedding of the peasant Comancho, but he also wrote a “Don Quixote” Suite. NW Puppets fleshes out the short opera with a previous act based on that music, incorporating the beginning of the Don’s quest, his hiring of Sancho Panza and various of his illusionary encounters.

The whole is carried by a magnificent performance by Stephen Carter as the Don. The show opens with the deluded old man in his nightshirt (Carter himself) waking from nightmare, seeing a procession of monks and women in mantillas process through his room bearing a puppet of his dream lady Dulcinea, and surrounded by books which shuffle and fly and turn into a dragon at which he stabs with his sword.

But as his delusion grows, his gaunt puppet steed Rosinante arrives and the puppet knight in full armor climbs on, while the human Don canters around the stage manoeuvering his puppet self to tilt at shadow windmills and charge at shadow sheep. A perfect foil for the Don, Dmitri Carter as Sancho Panza is also in full view with his character and skinny donkey.

This first act with words translated from Cervantes and augmented by the Carters’ own dialog, with the Telemann music, moves easily into the Telemann opera itself. True to this production, the instrumentalists break into song and even a conversation with the Don, while the singers end up manipulating puppets.

Telemann’s music is charming and lightweight as befits the story, and the first act of this production, created by the Carters themselves, is as strong as the amusing opera itself with its libretto by Daniel Schreiber.

Ably abetted by Cecilia Archuleta, violin; Jillon Stoppels Dupree, harpsichord; Peggy Monroe, percussion; Janet See, Baroque flute; and Margriet Tindemans, Baroque cello, with singers soprano Linda Strandberg, bass David Stutz, and tenor Scott Whitaker, the Carter family has created a wonderfully imaginative show.

Northwest Puppet Center’s “Don Quixote” plays through April 26, Friday at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, Sundays at 2, with ticket prices from $25-$28 at 800-838-3006 or nwpuppet.org.

Their next opera production will be Giovanni Paisiello’s “Pulcinella Vendicato”’ from April 16-25, 2010.

 

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