The Bach Aria Soloists ended their 17th season on Saturday with the delightful, imaginative presentation of “The Adventures of Don Quixote” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The Soloists (Elizabeth Suh Lane, violin, Beau Bledsoe, Baroque guitar, Elisa Williams Bickers, harpsichord, and Sarah Tannehill Anderson, soprano) were joined by Sascha Groschang on cello and actor Mark Robbins, performing as the author/narrator Cervantes and as Don Quixote, with Jorge Santizo as his squire and foil, Sancho Panza (and providing excellent off-stage hoof beats and comic yells).
Robbins gave a witty, winking performance, first as the sly Cervantes, and then, kitted in tin breast plate and peaked helmet, as the fervent Quixote. Though they condensed the multi-volume work into a presentation of one hour, the script, adapted by Patrick Neas, packed in the humor and sincerity of the character, and Cervantes’ musings on madness.
The delusion-driven story of chivalrous escapades was complemented with music from the Spanish Baroque, with works from Antonio Martín y Coll and Gaspar Sanz, as well as Spanish-influenced works. The pieces called for nuance and careful balance, as with the unmistakably bold flavor in “Xacara” and “La Spagna Anónimo,” and nimble, virtuosic performances from all, as in Martín y Coll’s “Danza del Hacha.”
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Anderson performed on a few choice works, from Sanz’ roguish “Marizápalos” with its broad innuendo to the haunting tones of the lullaby “La Mare de Déu” against the cello’s soft drone, in trio with violin and cello in Juan de Leon’s “Ay, que non sé rremediarme” and on the lovely “Yo soy la Locura” (I am madness) by Frenchman Henry du Bailly.
The program also interspersed the story with portions of “Suite Burlesque de Quixotte,” by Georg Philipp Telemann, a contemporary and friend of Johann Sebastian Bach, depicting the lonesome sighs of Dulcinea and the irregular speed and lopsided gait of Panza’s mule.
At times, the musicians underscored the speaking, accompanying Robbins as Quixote describes Dulcinea’s beauty in fulsome poetic detail, or with Bickers furious at the keyboard as Quixote prepares to attack the herds. They even baa-ed as the armies of sheep approached.
Martín y Coll’s “Danza del Hacha,” which featured each instrumentalist in a lively display of contrasting voices, drew an immediate standing ovation, and Anderson joined them again for a flashy encore on Sanz’ quick paced “Zarabanda,” lead by guitar.
Cervantes’ tale of Don Quixote, and his side-eyed view on sanity, still resonates as it did 400 years ago: “To surrender dreams—this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness—and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”