Don Quixote on a string

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By Andrew L. Pincus

Special to the Eagle

LENOX >> Poor old Don Quixote, mocked again at Tanglewood. Won't they give the guy a break?

Well, this is the 400th anniversary of Part II, and The Knights, the make-it-new chamber orchestra from Brooklyn, obliged Thursday night with the latest in a series of performances honoring knight errantry — Manuel de Falla's "Master Peter's Puppet Show," complete with digitally enacted puppetry. The rarity climaxed a Spanish-themed program that also included a Quixote song cycle.

As you might expect in a puppet show, the ancient-modern musical content of Falla's adaptation of a sequence in Cervantes' novel was longer on atmosphere than substance. But entertainment was the point, and the 26-member ensemble again demonstrated its polish, versatility and spirit in this and the evening's other performances.

Ozawa Hall is no puppet theater, so the performance was an adaptation of an adaptation, with the puppet show projected onto a large screen behind the orchestra.

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The drama takes place as a play within a play. Quixote (supposedly with other spectators) watches as Master Peter and his assistant, "Boy," present the show for his delectation. The story, in brief: the knight Don Geyferos rescues Princess Melisendra from the tower where she is held captive by Moors. Quixote rushes to the lovers' assistance, draws his sword against the pursuing Moors, and — well, in the video version he winds up slowly turning on a blade of a windmill.

The video design, by Kevork Mourad, was amusing and effective but pushed cleverness a bit far. Soprano Awet Andemicael as The Boy, tenor Nicholas Phan as Peter and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as Quixote — a fine vocal trio — sang their parts in declamatory style. Andemicael carried the story as she narrated in stentorian carnival-barker style. Sorry, Quixote.

The rest of the program was a collection of bits and pieces from Spain. It opened with Boccherini's string quintet "Nights in the Streets of Madrid," played with panache by the full string orchestra (though without the night watch's customary retreat to the barracks).

Ketelsen, potent of voice, sang Ravel's brief song cycle "Don Quichotte a Dulcinee" with flair for both French sensuousness and Quixote's ridiculousness. Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance," played sinuously, preceded the puppet show.

A "Love Sonnet to Pablo Neruda" provided a dip into Spanish literary heritage. Three players read his erotically charged Love Sonnet XXVII over a light orchestral accompaniment created by Knights co-director Colin Jacobsen. Other selections were by Paco de Lucia, Jose de Nebra, Geminiani and Gluck.

This was the lively, inventive ensemble's second visit to Tanglewood. Colin Jacobsen led most of the program from the concertmaster's position. His brother and co-director, cellist Eric Jacobsen, conducted for the puppet show. Each served as a genial host, alternating in spoken introductions to the pieces.


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