I spent the better part of today at the Phoenix Symphony’s rehearsal for this week’s concerts featuring Manuel de Falla’s Master Peter’s Puppet Show. This piece of music is a puppet opera – yes, an opera for puppets – and was written by de Falla in 1923, premiering shortly thereafter to an audience that included the likes of Stravinsky and Picasso.
The puppet opera is pulled straight from the classic story of Don Quixote by Cervantes, specifically from Chapter 26 of the second volume which features a puppet show. So what you end up with is a puppet show (of small puppets) within a puppet show (of life-sized puppets).
The role of Don Quixote is sung by Phoenix Chorale singer David Topping. The role of Master Peter is sung by Phoenix Chorale singer Erik Gustafson. Each of these roles are acted out by life-sized puppets under the direction of master puppeteer Basil Twist.
The basic story is this: Don Quixote is watching the puppet show and gets completely sucked into the story, sometimes confusing the puppet show with reality and sometimes even insisting Master Peter isn’t telling the story correctly. Quixote eventually loses it and ends up destroying Master Peter’s puppet show.
I asked David what in particular he has liked about the experience so far and he said, “It’s pretty cool to see the puppeteers acting out the role I’m singing.” Basil Twist introduced David to his alter ego, Mark, who is the primary puppeteer for Don Quixote and shook his hand (at which point, David clarified to me that he shook Mark’s hand – not the life-sized version of themselves; if you count, technically, there are at least 2 people and 1 puppet depicting the role of Don Quixote).
I was kind of confused about the story at first (thanks David for explaining everything to me) but now I have a better grasp on what’s happening. It was really cool getting to see behind the scenes today and the puppets and the effects are excellent.
Be sure to listen for the harpsichord throughout – according to Wikipedia, de Falla’s inclusion of the harpsichord in the score was the first time it was written for use in the ‘modern orchestra.’
David appeared with the Symphony previously for one of their annual New Year’s Eve concerts and a few times for St. Matthew’s Passion and Erik appeared with the Symphony on Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. While neither David nor Erik are strangers to performing and are used to being featured in solos, this I believe, is the first time they’ve appeared as featured guest artists in this capacity and I’m very excited for them! And (no bias here), they really sound fantastic.
If you can make it, get your tickets here.