Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Play It Again: Man of La Mancha's "Dulcinea"

 Play It Again:
Man of La Mancha's "Dulcinea"

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.

This week I review four versions of “Dulcinea,” Don Quixote’s gentle serenade for a skeptical Aldonza in
Man of La Mancha. The whole score of this show has a very distinctive feel, with folksy but classically-tinged music (by Mitch Leigh), character-specific and often poetic lyrics (by Joe Darion), and unique guitar-inflected orchestrations. Though not the best-known of Quixote’s songs, or even the second-best, I think “Dulcinea” exudes all of those qualities in spades, and when I recently heard part of it sung by Kevin Spacey and Jill Eikenberry (don’t ask), I knew I had to revisit this simple but compelling song. (I renew my hope that we’ll see a high-quality revival of the show sooner rather than later.)

My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities.


Don Quixote: Richard Kiley

*SINGING: Kiley’s vocals are subtle but powerful and he is, frankly, unlikely ever to be bested in his interpretation of this song. He achieves so much just with his careful note placement and deft juxtaposition of commanding sustained notes against quiet, vulnerable passages - in other words, he establishes character through his singing voice alone. The muleteers’ mocking repetition of Quixote’s serenade makes for a vivid and jarring end to the track.

*ORCHESTRA: The understated orchestrations play various instruments against each other, including colorful woodwind groupings and noble-sounding horns, punctuating the spaces between sung phrases. All of this is subtly blended with the ubiquitous guitar, a key part of the show’s sound. The brassier texture of the mocking section of the song makes for a nice contrast.

*SOUND: The sound is flawless to my ears, with vocals and orchestra perfectly clear throughout. I’m not an expert on recording techniques, but I think engineers were much more aggressive with stereo effects in this era than they are now, and I find that very satisfying.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is quite fast compared to later versions.

- YouTube

Don Quixote: Peter O’Toole

SINGING: O’Toole, of course, can’t match the other three singers for power and vocal control, but he does contribute lots of personality, and he builds up to a nice ending. The film’s approach to this song in general is quite different from the other versions, really leaning into Quixote’s daftness, and O’Toole is a good match for this take.

ORCHESTRA: As with O’Toole’s performance, the orchestration of the film version is very much its own thing, with a decidedly ethereal, string-oriented sound.

SOUND: The sound is terrible, but I am not quite sure of the original source and how it was captured for YouTube, so I won’t judge too harshly. The muleteers’ part of the song in particular is a raucous aural mess. 

*MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is very slow compared to the other versions, which is again in keeping with the movie’s approach to the song and character. I awarded this one the star because of the lovely orchestral passage included between Quixote’s song and the sneering response.

- YouTube

Don Quixote: Plácido Domingo

SINGING: Domingo’s formidable vocals are quite effective for this song, but he can’t match the vulnerability communicated by Kiley and Mitchell. I know it sounds absurd to say this about a Spanish tenor playing a Spanish character, but Domingo’s accent gets in the way a little bit, especially with some of the deliberately archaic lyrics that have to be sung quite quickly.

ORCHESTRA: Quite similar to the original orchestrations.

SOUND: This exemplifies what I’d call a muddy sound, by which I mean that the bass is heavily favored in the mix, to the detriment of some other vocal and orchestral details.

MISCELLANEOUS: Tempo is slightly slower than the original; the mocking response isn’t included on the track (and I don’t particularly miss it).

- YouTube

Don Quixote: Brian Stokes Mitchell

SINGING: Mitchell’s delivery doesn’t veer too far from Kiley’s, and I’d say he’s about 95 percent as good, which is meant as a huge compliment. He leans a little more on what you might call “character touches” in his interpretation rather than conveying Quixote’s noble essence through singing technique alone. This track includes the most succinct and amusing version of the muleteers’ recap of the song.

ORCHESTRA: The orchestrations are very much along the lines of the original version, but the orchestra is noticeably smaller. The guitar is more prominent in this version than the others, which works nicely for this song and this score.

SOUND: Mostly quite good; some of the loudest vocals seem a little clipped, but the balance between voice and orchestra is good.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is again a bit slower than the original. The track includes a somewhat longer spoken intro before the song starts. This version is really a very close second in all aspects; a few years ago I wrote a glowing review of the whole recording.

Thanks, as always, Mike. It's fun to look back at a song from one of my favorite shows and scores! - Jeff

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