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Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote his El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha in two parts in 1605 and 1615, two years before the author's death. A somewhat rambling work, with many digressions from the main narrative, it was written as a burlesque of the chivalric romances popular at the time. The work gradually deepens into a more philosophical study of the human condition. It was translated into English as early as 1612 as Don Quixote de la Mancha.
The earliest production of Don Quixote as a ballet is probably the 1740 staging by Franz Hilverding in Vienna. It was also in Vienna, in 1768, that Jean-Georges Noverre produced a new version with music by Josef Starzerin as a satire on his rival, Gaspare Angiolini. It is possible that this production was based on the earlier one produced by Hilverding.
Better documented is Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse, a ballet that debuted on February 12, 1743 at the Paris Opéra set to music by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. In Italy the story appeared as Don Chisciotte, as choreographed by Paolo Franchi for the Teatro all Scala, Milan in December 1783. This version used music by Angelo Tarchi. Another Italian production, at La Scala, Milan in 1792, was choreographed by Antoine Pitrot to a score by Noccolò Zingarelli. Another production, at the Paris Opéra in 1801, was choreographed by Louis-Jacques Milton and entitled Gamache's Wedding.
The popularity of the story as a base for a ballet increased in the 19th century. The first Russian production was produced by Charles Didelot in two acts in St Petersburg in 1808, and in 1809 a version was mounted in England by James Harvey D'Egville. Paul Taglioni (brother of ballerina Marie Taglioni) presented a version in Berlin in 1839 and his uncle Salvatore Taglioni set a production at the Teatro Regio, Turin during the 1843/44 season.
Although all these early ballet versions of the story were based on the first episodes of Cervantes story they varied greatly in style and the material they chose to include. The first time that the more comic episodes, that revolved around Quiteria (Kitri), Basilio and Camacho (Gamache) were used successfully was in the Paris Opéra production of 1801 with choreography by Louis Milon. It was titled Les Noces de Gamache. The role of Basilio was danced by August Vestris.
The libretto for this production became popular and was followed by August Bournonville in 1837 for his 3 act Don Quixote at Camacho's Wedding in Copenhagen. It was choreographed to melange of music by Gioacchino Rossini, Étienne Mehul, Gaspare Spontini, Jean Schneitzhoeffer and more, arranged by Otto Zinck. Milon's libretto was also used by Bernardo Vestris for his 1844/45 production at La Scala, but most notably it was the inspiration for Marius Petipa's version for the Bolshoi Theater in 1869. Petipa's version of Don Quixote, to the music of Minkus, was to become the standard ballet version of the tale and featured the popular virtuoso pas de deux that has been performed countless times as a concert piece.
As chief ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, Petipa had been instructed by the Imperial Theatre's directorate to produce a major new work at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The plot of Don Quixote, was based on an adventures of Quiteria (known as Kitri in the ballet) and Basilio, which Petipa had developed from the second part of Cervante's novel. Petipa adapted his ballet to suit the unsophisticated taste of Moscow's audiences by including several entertaining theatrical devices: a group of dancers, arrayed as amusing cacti, pursued Don Quixote during his nightmare; a rising moon, which Don Quixote mistook for his beloved Dulcinea, cried and laughed with big tears rolling down its cheeks; and a comic dance in which Harlequin, armed with a bird cage, attempted to catch larks. Spanish reference to the ballet's provenance was indicated by Petipa's inclusion of a "Zingara", a "Jota", a "Morena" for Kitri and Basilio, a "Lola" for the corps de ballet and an exciting dance for the men dressed as bullfighters. This Don Quixote was a monumental ballet in four acts and eight scenes, that premiered December 26, 1869 in Moscow.
Using the same music and designs, but with major choreographic revisions the St Petersburg version that debuted November 21, 1871 was in five acts (eleven episodes, a prologue and an epilogue). It took into account the Russian capital's preference for a more classical interpretation of the ballet and amounted to an entirely new and very different version of the ballet. Petipa refined the ballet's Spanish flavor and removed the scene with the cacti. The "Lark Hunt" episode and the crying moon were also withdrawn. Minkus was commissioned to write additional music for a new fifth act consisting of three scenes into which the court of a Duke and Duchess was introduced. Further embellishments included the opportunity for one ballerina to perform the double role of Kitri and Dulcinea, as well as a major rewriting of the great classical scene for Don Quixote's dream.
Aleksader Gorsky staged his Don Quixote, in 1900 using Petipa's scenario, some of his choreography, and reducing the work to four acts. Two years later, in 1902, the director of the Imperial Theatres, Vladimir Teliakovsky, invited Gorsky to restage an updated version of Don Quixote at the Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. The ballet became a staple of the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet and Leningrad Kirov Ballet's repertoire and was regularly modified as it was restaged.
Additional amendments to twentieth-century Russian productions have included Rostislav Zakharov's new production for the Bolshoi Theatre in 1940 with the renowned Kasyan Goleizovsky adding a new gypsy dance.
Don Quixote was first seen outside of Russia was in an edited two act version, danced by Pavlova and her company, and staged by Laurent Nivikoff, which premiered in England in 1924. The first time the full evening work was staged for a Western company was at England's Ballet Rambert in 1962 as staged by Witold Borkowski. Notable productions outside of Russia to Minkus' music were those staged by Nureyev for the Vienna State Opera (1966), and Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theatre (1978), which for the most part followed the traditional versions they had performed in Russia.
George Balanchine created his Don Quixote, in 1965 to a score composed for him by Nicolas Nabokov, based on an earlier orchestral suite he had written. This was the first evening length American ballet created to a commissioned score. Far from the sunny, and broadly humorous versions based on Petipa, Balanchine instead chose to make a somber work highlighting the Don's alienation from society. At the premiere, Balanchine himself appeared as the Don with the nineteen year old Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea.
Other non Minkus version of Don Quixote include Aurelio Milloss's Le prtratit de Don Quichotte, with music by Gofredo Ptrassi in 1947, Serge Lifar's Le Chevalier Errant for the Paris Opera in 1950 to the music of Ibert, and in the same year Ninette de Valois' one act Don Quixote to the commissioned music of Roberto Gerhard. East Berlin's Staastoper Ballet presented Tajana Gsovsky's choreography to music by Leo Spies in 1949, and John Neumeier chose Richard Strauss to accompany his 1979 production in Hamburg.
The use of live horses and donkeys in the Don Quixote was quite a tradition. When the work was staged by Pavlova in London is was thought that the horse looked too robust to belong to the Don, so it was made up to look thinner. The effect must have been good as it prompted the authorities to investigate if the animal was malnourished!
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The Synopsis of the Stanton Welch's Don Quixote
A local drama group prepares for a play, but their aging leading man, Don Quixote, is not up to its demands. The director and the actors storm out in frustration, leaving the Don alone and exhausted with his trusty companion, Sancho Panza . The Don wants to rest so he asks Sancho to leave him. He then falls asleep and dreams of himself as a young man meeting a beautiful woman, Dulcinea. He falls in love, but she is the wife of a king. The king asks the Don to protect Dulcinea while he continues his crusade against evil. The king knights the Don and Dulcinea gives him one of her royal jewels as a token of thanks. The king then leaves Dulcinea to the Don's protection. The Don is embarrassed by his declaration of love for her and feels he must leave. Unprotected, Dulcinea is kidnapped by the evil emperor. Horrified by his actions, the Don chases after them. As an old man he leaps from his bed and with Sancho starts his search for the captured Dulcinea.
In a fishing village a local girl, Kitri, is in love with Basilio, the local barber. Her father Angel, does not want her to marry Basilio. Anita persuades Angel to arrange for Kitri to marry her son Gamarche, the town's richest young man. Kitri is horrified.
The Don arrives in the village. He becomes transfixed with Kitri as she reminds him of his love Dulcinea. Kitri uses the diversion caused by the Don to escape with her love Basilio. The Don, Angel and Anita give chase.
Basilio and Kitri run away to the forest where they are captured by gypsies. To escape, they offer to help the gypsies get money from the Don, Anita and their entourage. When the Don and the others arrive, the gypsies ask for money to tell their fortunes. They tell a story of how a young couple in love is parted and how, when the young woman is forced to marry someone else, she takes her life in protest.
The Don mistakes the tale for Dulcinea's fate. He fantasizes that he is once again young and searching for her. Dulcinea, however, does not know of his quest and is forced to marry the evil emperor. She grabs a dagger and stabs herself in protest. The young Don arrives to battle the evil emperor and kills him, but he is too late and Dulcinea dies in his arms. Angels come to claim her and turn her into one of their own. The Don believe that she asks him to help Kitri and Basilio fulfill their love.
Back in the village Angel and Anita are forcing their children to marry. Basilio, in an attempt to persuade Angel to let him marry Kitri, pretends to kill himself. Angel still objects, as Basilio is still poor. The Don interrupts, giving Basilio the jewel Dulcinea had given him. He knights Basilio and Angel reluctantly agrees to allow Kitri and Basilio to marry. Kitri and Basilio are married and a grand celebration follows.
Still with his dreams, we find the Don back in his bed. As a young man he is reunited with his true love, Dulcinea, and the two are together for eternity
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