2016 was not just the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare but also of Miguel de Cervantes, the latter being the occasion for staging a rather unusual concert—at least by the standards of the usually conservative Hong Kong classical music scene—at the City Hall Theatre on 9 November.
The concert—“East of La Mancha” songs inspired by “Don Quixote”—formed part of “El año Cervantino en Hong Kong” initiated by the Consulate-Generals of Spain and Mexico in Hong Kong and Macau. This Musica Viva production was a journey through 100 years of music written by composers of different nationalities inspired by the novel Don Quixote. Particularly interesting was the cooperation between Spain and Mexico and their communities, two nations so far apart from each other, yet so united on this occasion, determined to bring to a success a project that, with its smaller-than-usual scale, a minimalist stage setting and careful casting, resulted in a music cameo.
That the Don Quixote had inspired so many well-known composers of songs and operas since 1600 must have been little-known to most of the night’s audience. Don Quixote has in fact inspired many well-known composers of opera and song since 1600, something surely few of the night’s audience knew beforehand. The programme itself focussed on about a century of music from the mid-19th to mid-20th century, composed by the likes of Maurice Ravel, Jules Massenet, Jaque Ibert and the Spanish Francisco Asenjo Barbieri. Readings from the novel alternated arias and zarzuelas and the concert ended with a selection of pieces from Mitch Leigh’s musical “Man of La Mancha”. Hong Kong rarely gets to hear works sung in Spanish so the tasteful choice of pieces by Barbieri, Chapí and Halffter was a welcome opportunity.
The audience had a chance to preview mezzo-soprano Carol Lin, who will be singing Carmen next month, as she tastefully navigated selections from Massenet’s Don Quichotte. The international group of performers included Russian pianist Natalia Tokar who played particularly well accompanying the French repertoire. This enjoyable evening perhaps pointed the way to other thematic or national concerts.