Between 1690 and 1800 about twenty-one operas based on Don Quixote17 were written in German-speaking countries alone. Hardly any of these operas are performed nowadays, yet in many music archives one can still peruse the libretti and most of them make good reading. This previously uncollected and unexamined body of work supplies us with a great deal of information about the «re-presentation» of the character Don Quijote and the novel itself in Germany and Austria from the late Baroque to the beginning of Romanticism.
Not all libretti focus solely on Don Quijote. There are several which have as their basis interpolated stories and episodes from the novel, i.e. «El curioso impertinente» or «La aventura de la Sierra Morena», and there are some which modeled their plot on other characters of the novel, i.e. Sancho Panza or Camacho.
These forgotten dramatizations of Don Quixote shed interesting light on the perception and interpretation of Cervantes' work and how it was viewed in the epoch in question.
The aim of this paper is to examine and compare three opera libretti derived from different parts of the Quixote and to determine what role they played in the reception of Cervantes' text. —46→ The libretti will be discussed as literary forms with deviations and changes from the original to be noted and categorized as to their purpose and function. Wherever possible the evolution of a libretto will be traced in order to determine whether the text was based directly on Cervantes' novel or was derived from other sources. Also the relationship between music and libretto will be examined if it is relevant as interpretation of the novel proper.
The libretti in question are: first, Der irrende Ritter Don Quixotte de la Mancia, premiered in Hamburg in 1690, text by Hinrich Hinsch and music by Phillip Förtsch; second, the anonymous bilingual libretto, in Italian and German, Amor medico, o sia il Don Chisciotte [Die Liebe ein Arzt, oder Don Quixote], published in 1739 in Vienna; and third, a composition by Georg Phillip Telemann Basilio and Quiteria with libretto by Daniel Schiebeler, dating from 1767.
The first recorded reference to Don Quixote in Germany came in 1613 in Heidelberg at a royal wedding between the «Winter King», the Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate, and the English princess Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England. It seems that in this case England had been the immediate transmitter since Shelton's translation already had appeared in 1612. Nevertheless, it was not until 1648 that the first German translation appeared, even though it had been promised since 162118. We find here only twenty-three chapters translated, by the pseudonymous Aeschacius Major; but the work is by far the best German version even by today's standard of translation19. The author even comments on the English and French translations, pointing out some difficulties in rendering the correct meaning from the Spanish into other main European languages20.
From the publication of Don Quixote in 1605 and 1615 to the first German translation in 1648, the Germans read the novel either in French or in the original. The French translation of Rosset (1618) was especially popular. If we consider that the —47→ German translation contained only twenty-three chapters, we understand why the French version remained very much in use for a long time.
Many scholars see a sudden romanticizing of Don Quijote in Germany during the height of Romanticism. Yet the extant libretti show a different interpretation. With the first German opera, Der irrende Ritter Don Quixotte de la Mancia, written in 1690 during the height of the Baroque, we can perceive already a strong romantic tendency which continues throughout the eighteenth-century and is apparent long before the rise of Romanticism.
To understand this romanticizing trend we should examine how a
romantic perception of
Don Quixote was expressed in Germany.
According to Anthony Close,
«The German Romantics expressed their
interpretation, not in formal works of literary history, but in paragraphs of
treatises on general aesthetics, in occasional pieces for literary reviews, in
conversations retrospectively recorded»21. Close states that for the Romantics,
poetic qualities were predominant over comedy in
Don Quixote, or, to be more precise, these
two things fused together, with comedy being assimilated by poetry (Close, p.
32). He goes on to explain that Cervantes was regarded as a philosopher poet
who portrayed the universal struggle of the Ideal and the Real through the
symbolism of his hero's adventures (Close, p. 35). By giving higher status to
the humor and irony in
Don Quixote, the German Romantics lifted it
out of the genre of farce. For them, humor and irony were not slap stick
entertainment but a grander way to see certain forms of comedy. It is in this
interpretation that Germany differs greatly from that of France and England.
Through the use of humor and irony, the novelist, Cervantes, distances himself
from the subject matter, making it more 'objective' and 'universal' (Close, p.
38-39). The ennoblement of
Don Quixote presupposes the ennoblement of
the protagonist. It was
precisely the ennoblement of the figure of
Don Quijote which was present in Germany long before the beginning of
Romanticism, as will be shown through discussion of the above-mentioned
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the history of the reception of Don Quixote begins to concentrate itself onto the German stage. Hamburg, at that time the center of German opera and operatic art, witnessed in 1690 the performance of the first German opera based on Cervantes' work. Many composers and librettists of the Hamburg opera were admirers and connoisseurs of Spanish literature and did much to introduce it and to spread its fame. Several 'autos ' and plays of Calderón and Lope had already been adapted for the operatic stage22.
Johann Philipp Förtsch, composer, and Hinrich Hinsch, librettist, met in Hamburg around 1680. They collaborated on several operas, one of them Der irrende Ritter D. Quixotte de la Mancia, the first German opera on the subject. Both Hinsch and Förtsch were familiar with the novel in the original, since they read Spanish. As we will see, this is an important factor in the justification of additions and alterations of the original.
Already in the title, Hinsch makes a clever allusion to the complex character of the protagonist. At first, it seems to be just a play on words on the part of the librettist, but the reader will soon understand that there is a very subtle psychological analysis involved. The German title Der irrende Ritter D. Quixotte de la Mancia is by no means a translation of the Spanish El ingenioso Caballero Don Quixote de la Mancha. Hinsch deliberately changes the adjective describing «Ritter», from a positive attribute in Spanish «ingenioso», to a negative one in German «irrende». Furthermore, Spanish «ingenioso» has only one meaning, namely «ingenious», whereas the German word could be interpreted in three ways: erroneous, wandering, lost. It is true that these three interpretations are related in meaning. Yet in choosing the adjective «irrend», the librettist already introduces his concept of duality in the personality of Don Quijote, seeing him as someone not only perhaps mistaken in what he is doing but also as a someone who has lost his sense of direction, at least for the duration of the opera.—49→
In an attempt to justify the deviation of his libretto from the
original novel, Hinsch, in his preamble, draws attention to the changes he
made. The core of the libretto comes from the second part of the novel,
Chapters 30-57, and takes place at the duke's court. Hinsch acknowledges the
addition of a character with the name of Rodrigo, who does not figure in the
original but is needed for theatrical effect,
«wie es uns vor das Theatrum am besten zu seyn gedeucht / haben
uns auch der / den Schau = Spiel Schreibern erlaubten Freiheit gebraucht / und
den Rodrigo... mit eingeführet»23. He further defends his deviation from
the original by reminding the reader that other playwrights before him have
done the same, naming, as an example, the
Berger extravagant, a satire on the pastoral
genre, by Charles Sorel, which Hinsch erroneously attributes to Thomas
Corneille. The German Andreas Gryphius wrote an adaptation in which several
characters not found in the original were added. Hinsch continues to address
the reader in the preamble, preparing him for what he is about to learn from
the libretto. He explains that the main reason for writing the libretto was to
show that for human beings «to contract folly or madness is just as
inevitable as contracting chicken pox». We all come down with it once, in
which case reason will struggle with folly to overcome it and cure us. To
emphasize his point, he admits to have chosen the «life of the Spanish
knight Don Quijote» because in this book,
«scheinen Thorheit und Witz darinnen mit einander zu
Hinsch begins the actual libretto with a prologue in which we meet a number of allegorical figures. This prologue is actually a visual synthesis of the preamble, now addressing the audience and pointing out what to expect. We can summarize the plot in the following way:
Folly, personified, is seated on a throne receiving the homage of five jesters, who together with Folly govern different emotions —50→ of human nature. There is the Garment-jester, the Carousal-jester, the Venus-jester, the Dissemble-jester and the Novel-jester. Folly issues a challenge for relinquishing crown and throne to the jester who is able to provide the greatest entertainment for the court by showing what kind of results their influence on human emotion have. Each one of them, reciting a few lines in a couplet style, gives his reason for deserving the crown. The winner, not surprisingly, is the Novel-jester. He asserts that his influence has caused people to lose their reason and behave abnormally: «Wen mein überzuckert Gifft / Das aus diesen Blättern quillet / und stets reizet / nimmer stillet / einmal ein Gemüthe trifft: kan es aus der Thorheit Ketten / selbst die Stärke nicht erretten»25.
Folly, as well as all other jesters, agrees that the Novel-jester merits the crown, since through his interference, Don Quijote has contracted madness and will be a source of delight and entertainment for them: «Dieweil durch dich / Ein Ritter uns ergetzt / der seinen Witz verliert... / Weil durch dich Don Quixott uns heute Freud gebiert»26.
By pointing out the ability to amuse while in a state of madness, Hinsch gives us a detailed reading of Don Quijote's role in this opera. It is the role of the buffoon, who in his madness is allowed to tell the truth without being reproached for it. At the opening of the first Act, Don Quijote, having been taken to the court of the duke Don Pedro, sometimes seems to fulfill this role.
The opera now follows closely the episodes in the novel at court where soon after his arrival Don Quijote becomes the object of conversation and entertainment. The librettist is careful to underscore the knight's vacillation between reason and folly, which is intriguing to everyone at court. Hinsch takes great pains to point out this apparent duality, being careful, however, to portray Don Quijote as a tragic, not a comic, figure. Hinsch's interpretation of Don Quijote as a tragic figure able to arouse pity already comes close to the Romantic interpretation. Though —51→ the concept of madness as familiar part of Romanticism had not yet entered the literary scene, Hinsch already makes full use of it.
After having fought cats with bells attached to their feet, Don Quijote also battles with a great magician who has put twelve maidens under a spell, causing them to grow beards. He fights a final duel with Sansón Carrasco, alias the «Knight of the Moon». Losing it forces Don Quijote to agree to the stipulation set before the fight; he has to refrain from all knightly activities.
According to Lienhard Bergel, «in the 18th century Don Quixote reached the height of popularity in Germany. Never afterwards, not even in Romanticism, was its influence stronger. Many aspects and phases of German life between 1730 and 1800, so far as it is reflected in literature, are directly related to Don Quixote»27. Germany's critical opinion on Don Quixote is practically unanimous in considering it essentially a satire, but the perception of the protagonist is quite different. For most people in eighteenth-century Germany, Don Quijote represents the plight but also the liberty of the oppressed in spirit, even though the final victory is dubious. With this idea, Don Quixote the book and Don Quijote the protagonist become an instrument in the hands of enlightened writers and critics of society. This can be deduced mainly from various libretti of this epoch, where the ideas of Enlightenment have also crept into verses which were set to music. A good example is an anonymous libretto of 1739, Amor medico, o sia il Don Chisciotte (Die Liebe ein Arzt, oder Don Quixote), published by Johann Peter von Ghelen, (the imperial court printer,) in Vienna. It is a bilingual libretto, Italian-German, a highly unusual practice at the court of Vienna during this time. Neither librettist nor composer is mentioned and we do not know if this three-act opera was ever performed. (There is no genre designation, I would «classify» it as an early example of the Singspiel28.) It has the seal of the censor, meaning it had been approved for either staging or publication, which does not mean that it actually had been or was ever staged. Although we have the published libretto, I am inclined to guess that only a —52→ limited number of copies were printed. There is no reference in any collection or list of libretti to this particular work and the score also has not been found29. On the surface this libretto is, like many others, a charming piece of entertainment. Nevertheless, on further examination we encounter some very subtle criticism of society, religion, education and government. It may be summarized as follows:
These two plots, Amor medico and Don Chisciotte, run parallel (or should we say one is interpolated within the other) except for two moments when they touch and interact: at one point Don Quijote meets Lucrine, who takes him for Vulcan. They have an argument about Dulcinea, and Lucrine tells him she has seen her in the arms of another man. As proof she brings him to the statue of Adonis and Venus. In the meantime, Amaranto has put a satyr mask on Adonis' face. When Don Quijote sees this, he believes Adonis to be the devil and starts to fight him. Amaranto, who has been hiding, intervenes, since he does not want the statue destroyed. By now the mask has slipped from the face of the statue and Don Quijote, noticing the resemblance of Adonis and Amaranto thinks he has encountered another devil. During the scuffle with the statue, Don Quijote breaks off the arrow which was in Adonis' hand. Amaranto now reads the inscription his father, Fidenio, has put there, asserting that his son was model for Adonis. Don Quijote refrains from continuing the fight with Amaranto, since he feels sorry for the devil who has such a big family.
The second moment the two stories touch is in the inn when Grullo calls the two sisters, now each with her respective fiancé, to come and see the fight between «Pandafilando» and Don Quijote. They come, commenting on the way about the windmill attack and the fight with the marionettes.
The Quijote plot comes very close to the Italian opera of Conti Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena of 1719. Several names from Conti's text are reintroduced here; Rigo, the barber; Lope(z), a relative of Don Quijote; and also «Pandafilando». The course of the plot is also very similar, as is the outcome of the final confrontation and its consequences.
It is in the main plot, however, that we find suggestions of the philosophy of Enlightenment. Two sisters live alone, both having studied science and both very openly expressing their —54→ preferences as to the choice of the men they want to marry. There is no authority figure in their lives to provide advice about what is expected of them as women. Furthermore they are controlling not only the situation but also the men. Also Albarosa's questioning of the divine power by consulting a spiritual oracle30 is a definite sign of mistrusting established religious dogmas31.
The existence of a bilingual edition is also a very interesting
deviation from the norm. It is true that the Viennese court at that time had a
succession of Italian musicians, and the technical language for music was and
still is Italian. Elsewhere in German-speaking countries it had long been a
custom also to use German for music nomenclature; Telemann, for example, was an
avid defender of this practice. For more than half a century, Germans had used
their language for opera libretti; but the Viennese court was very slow in
adopting German as an operatic language. Even in 1782, when Mozart introduced
Abduction from the Seraglio, the work was
frowned upon, for being written in German. The appearance of a bilingual
libretto therefore, shows a liberal attitude which goes hand in hand with the
spirit of the Enlightenment. A note at the end of the German libretto
underscores this idea in a curious way:
Büchlein hiervon seynd in WELSCH und Deutscher Sprach beysammen bey dem
Eingang des Teatri zu haben»32. Since the early
seventeenth century, the word «Welsch» had become a derogatory
expression used mainly for the Italian language and frequently for the Italian
people. It is obvious that a criticism of some kind is intended.
Even though Telemann's compositions are separated by 34 years, the older one Sancio oder die siegende grossmuth (1727) already belongs to the genre «Singspiel». The libretto differs little from the episodes on the island, taken from Part II, Chapter 49, and does not merit a detailed discussion. The later work, however, which dates from 1761 should be examined more closely. It —55→ appears under three different titles: Basilio und Quiteria, Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho and Don Quixote der Löwenritter.
Daniel Schiebeler, (1741-1771) the librettist, was only eighteen years old when he conceived the idea for a libretto drawn from the well-known episode «the wedding of Camacho». This idea came from his extensive study of the Spanish language and its literature. Schiebeler worked with the original Spanish text of the Don Quixote in order to create a libretto that met his own high standards. We know from some of his correspondence that he owned and worked with a copy of the 1744 edition of Vida y Hechos del ingenioso Hidalgo D. Q. de la Mancha published by Gregorio Mayáns y Síscar. Schiebeler presented Telemann with a draft of this libretto which he entitled «Basilio und Quiteria». At that time Telemann was almost 80 years old. He fell in love with the piece and agreed to compose the music. In dramatizing the plot of this episode, Schiebeler divided it into five scenes with a ballet. Precise stage directions were given. Nevertheless, Telemann revised the whole libretto rigorously and produced a text better suited for the type of music he had in mind. He completely cut the third scene which, in Cervantes' original, is also an allegorical scene used to adorn the wedding feast in the style of an «hablada»33. Schiebeler had taken this scene almost literally from Cervantes, showing the mock battle between Wealth and Love in the form of a «Singballet». Telemann's perception of the final composition did not allow for a ballet scene. Furthermore, Telemann polished the text so that the verse meter would be more easily adaptable to his music. The young Schiebeler, sometimes quite inexperienced in such matters, had not paid attention to those details. The final version of the libretto, set to music and premiered on the 5th of November 1761, was given the new title Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho.
In its form, then, the composition is a one act Singspiel. Telemann took great care to musically contrast the different characters of the play. Don Quijote and Sancho are portrayed as men of rank, a bit stuffy at times but with an effect of parody. Their arias remind one of the somewhat pompous da capo arias that we know from Italian opera seria and their dialogues are not —56→ spoken but are still recitatives. The common people, shepherds and countryfolk, on the other hand, make use of popular melodies and folksong which, at times, are already reminiscent of the later masters of the Singspiel, Haydn and Mozart. Another device typical of Telemann, is the incorporation of rhythm and instrumental techniques peculiar to Spanish folklore. In some songs of the shepherds we can hear the ostinato rhythm of the drums typical of certain Spanish folk dances especially the chaconne and the jota aragonesa34. The idea to incorporate these folk motifs was taken by the librettist and the composer from the detailed description of musical customs and traditions which Cervantes so copiously mentions in the Quixote. For a musician like Telemann, interested in stylistic particularities, these descriptions incited the imagination and prompted him to use them in his composition, shaping them to fit his style, yet always showing respect for the original creation.
What emerges from this study is the need to include opera libretti based on Don Quixote in the canon of a Quixote bibliography. Vital information on the perception, interpretation, and reading of this literary masterpiece, which, as we have seen, was sometimes only obtainable through an opera libretto, is otherwise neglected. Such neglect can lead to erroneous or incomplete conclusions and, on the other hand, can deprive a scholar of a missing link. It has been shown that interpretative readings in Germany of the different opera libretti were often the only existing evidence of literary history and criticism of Don Quixote during a certain time period. Changes in the interpretation of Cervantes' original text, especially during German Pre-Romanticism, can only be documented with the help of opera libretti. It is therefore pertinent that these «Don Quixotes» not remain consigned to oblivion.—57→
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. Edition and notes by Luis Andrés Murillo, I-II. Madrid: Castalia, 1978.
_____. The delightful history of the most ingenious knight Don Quixote of la Mancha. Part I. Trans. Thomas Shelton, 1612; edition and notes, Charles W. Eliot, New York: Colliers and Son, 1906.
_____. Juncker Zwarckfladens aus Fleckenland Chapters 1-23. Trans. Aeschacius Major, 1648; edition and notes by Hermann Tiemann. Hamburg: XXI Congress of Modern Languages, 1933.
Baselt, Bernd. «Zum Typ der komischen Oper bei G. Ph. Telemann». G. Ph. Telemann. Ein bedeutender Meister der Aufklärungsepoche, Magdeburger-Telemann Festtage June 22-26, 1967. Magdeburg, 1967, Part I, 73-96.
_____. «G. Ph. Telemanns Serenade 'Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho' Beiträge zur Entstehungsgeschichte von Telemanns letzem Hamburger Bühnenstück». G. Ph. Telemann und seine letzten Werke, Magdeburger Telemann-Festtage August 7-10, 1970. Magdeburg, 1971, 85-100.
Bergel, Lienhard. «Cervantes in Germany». Cervantes Across the Centuries. Ed. Angel Flores and M. J. Bernadete. New York: The Dryden Press, 1947, 305-42.
Close, Anthony. The Romantic Approach to Don Quixote. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Melz, Christian F. An Evaluation of the Earliest German Translation of 'Don Quixote', 'Juncker Harnisch aus Fleckenland'. Los Angeles: University of California Publication, 1945.