Asheville’s a wonderful place, set in the NC mountains and rich in culture and other amenities. Its arts district is concentrated in its vibrant city center, and fine eateries within easy walking distance abound. (Raleigh should be so fortunate – the capital’s idea of planning for fine dining retained a McDonald’s across the street from its opera house.)

Asheville has weather advantages, too, so while the Piedmont and Coastal Plain swelter, the county seat of Buncombe averages a high of 83° in July.

And Asheville celebrates summer with arts, including a magnificent production of the great ’60s musical Man of La Mancha that runs through July 17. Folks weary of the heat elsewhere might well consider a call for tickets and a dash to cooler climes for this fine production by Asheville Lyric Opera, now in its 17th season. It really is a “drop-whatever-else-you’re-doing-and-head-West” kind of event.

The show, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, and a book by Dale Wasserman, retells events from the lives of Spain’s greatest writer and his greatest character. The setting is a prison, where the writer awaits his interview with the Inquisition. The other “guests” assist him in a defense intended to demonstrate his worthiness. All the key elements of Don Quixote’s fame are present – windmills, castles, knighthood, chivalry – more than enough to convey the message and indeed pretty much everything except the sheep!

This is often perceived as a one-tune musical because of the immense popularity of its main song, but there is richness in music and lyrics throughout. ALO’s production, presented in the gem-like Diana Wortham Theatre (500 seats), is so good there were in effect no problems with balance or blend or diction or projection during the course of the evening. If there was any amplification, it was completely inconspicuous. The splendid pit band – winds, brass, and percussion, with guitar and double bass – was led with keen attentiveness by Keith Chambers. ALO’s David Craig Starkey was the stage director. The choreography was by Lyle Laney, and the fights were directed by Dominic Aquillino.

Heading the cast was David Malis, whose powerful presence might single-handedly have assured success for this venture, but in fact he was surrounded by other comparably fine singing actors. Donata Cucinotta was Aldonza (Dulcinea); she never upstaged the others, but by the end of the show one wondered why it wasn’t named for her. Sancho Panza, the manservant, was Scott Wichael, likewise consistently fine. The large cast included Gregory Gerbrandt as the Governor, David Weigel as the Duke and Dr. Carrasco, Clayton Capra as Juan and the Padre, Anna Buck as Antonia, and Victor Cardamone as Jose and the Barber – as whom he was a perfect foil for Don Q. Others in the cast were Antoinette Konow, Ian Murrell, Coburn Jones, Christina DeMaio (Maria), Robert Helma, Brandi Helma, and Corey Link. That’s a lot of folks coming and going, and many of them came together to form the various choruses during the evening – they were all nicely polished and crystal clear, too. All the stage business and all the activities were meticulously timed and precise (aside from a few instances where stage hands were visible as props were moved around).

The program was bare-bones, consisting of a brief plot summary and no list of musical numbers. For the latter (and for much more about this milestone of American musical theatre) this Wiki article is a good place to begin. Because I had printed a copy of that (just in case…) I can tell readers that there seemed to be no significant cuts.

So it was good. It was very, very good. And its messages – bracketing current politics and emotions, too, with equal measure – came through with considerable brilliance. For example, there was the line, “Facts are the enemy of truth,” and, earlier, “The innocents must pay for the sins of the guilty.” But to offset those, there’s that impossible dream, conveying hope – yes, even on an evening when the Turks were rioting in the streets.

As I said at the outset, it wouldn’t hurt to drop whatever else you’re doing and head for the Asheville hills…. Details of the remaining shows are in the sidebar.