Over the years, reams of Spanish music have been written by non-Spanish composers. Ravel was good at it. He grew up a few miles from the border. Rimsky-Korsakov was good at it, too. He grew up a very long way from the border.
And Ludwig Minkus? He was the Austrian who spent his career in the Russian ballet. He produced a score for Don Quixote, flecked with Spain. It is a good score, more than serviceable. Is it as good as Don Quichotte, the Massenet opera? Or Strauss’s tone poem, which features a cello (representing Don Quixote) and a viola (Sancho Panza)?
I will forgo comparisons. Each score does its job.
Last night, in the Metropolitan Opera House, American Ballet Theatre presented Don Quixote (whose choreography is by Petipa and Gorsky). The orchestra, led by David LaMarche, played its Minkus very well. Extraordinarily well. They played with accuracy and vitality. This must have been an aid—a boost—to the dancers. A good performance from the orchestra is certainly a boost to an evening, overall.
When the curtain opens on Don Quixote, and you see the set and costumes, you may think of an opera or two: Carmen, surely, or The Barber of Seville. Like Carmen, this ballet has a matador and gypsies. As a bonus, it has a barber—in the person of Basilio, who wants Kitri, whose father wants her to marry someone richer (of course).
Basilio was danced by Daniil Simkin, who received a hearty ovation when he entered. The audience knew what it was in for—and he delivered. He was a lovable and brilliant scamp. He danced with great poise and panache. He has charm coming out of his ears. At several points, he drew laughs from the audience—genuine LOLs.
His Kitri was Isabella Boylston, who was a model of girlishness, in the most positive sense. She comported herself with elegance and spunk, in just the right proportions. And as I have said before, she has a special ingredient: adorability. I also say it about Diana Damrau, the German soprano and opera performer. This is an “intangible,” worth a pretty penny.
Dancing the matador, Espada, was Blaine Hoven, who had the appropriate swagger, to use a word now in vogue. “Swag” is the shorter version. He took the stage like he owned the place, as a matador—the coolest, most confident guy in town—would.
From first to last, ABT’s performance last night featured pleasure in dance. Sheer pleasure (along with hard-earned skill, of course). There was never a moment that smacked of clock-punching. At the end, Boylston and Simkin put on some serious fireworks. The audience screamed for them as for Gheorghiu and Alagna.