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The much anticipated Opera Company of Philadelphia premiere of Cyrano had its fledgling flight last fall at the Michigan Opera Theater and is in its second stage of development here before heading to Miami in 2010.
Lusty applause greeted the gorgeous stage pictures of John Pasco‘s lavish Act I set with the gold-columned hall of the Hotel de Bourgogne. A ministage and side balcony de bourgeoisie to depict the social realm of 16th-Century Paris is followed by an equally witty Caravaggio-style detailed pastry shop. The Renaissance painting chromatic storybook is complemented by Pasco’s equally effective costume design.
DiChiera’s first scenes were musically choppy and seated three-quarters of the way back on the floor. The singing initially sounded out of sync with the orchestra. This problem seemed quickly reset by the large cast of peasants, tradesmen and cadets milling about and introducing DiChiera’s strong chorale, whose singers fleetly moved the story along at key points.
Pop takes charge
When Romanian baritone Marian Pop suddenly appeared amid the crowd scene, things became instantly more cohesive. The story rises and falls on Cyrano’s bravado and tenderness, and Pop proved up to the task. He handily dispatched rivals with both his tongue and his foil (credit the aggressive fencing choreographer Christopher Barbeau).
Pop’s vocal template goes from Brando-esque mumbling to beautifully articulated French, and he coolly floods the hall with vocal subtlety and muscle alike. His confession of loneliness and how his physical being defines him by a nose is unforgettably real. Pop is completely engaged in delivering Cyrano’s soul as an iconic, red-blooded French hero. He mocks his own prominent proboscis and he breaks your heart when he realizes he can never possess Roxane, but will be the romantic voice of his insipidly handsome compatriot Christian.
The physical production makes it easy for one to forget that this is new music. The cinematic character of DiChiera‘s score can sound pat. The first time Roxane and her suitor Christian come toward each other, DiChiera’s surging strings sounded like something from the old Warner Brothers composer Max Steiner. Otherwise, DiChiera conjures flowy narrative melodies with sustaining tonal threads, robust military fanfares and even some Ravelean enclaves.
Out of place neo-Classical score
Although DiChiera toys with structure, his score is accessible enough to propel the libretto by Uzan’s, who obviously wants to preserve the richness of Rostand‘s French dialogue.
Working against DiChiera and Uzan is a story looks so classicist that neo-Classical music leaves something to be desired. The terrific duet between Christian and Cyrano, for instance, builds with vocal dynamic drama but lacks a grand opera payoff.
The dank Act III battle scene, with soldiers strewn about on the stage for the siege of Arras, should be reconsidered: The whole extravaganza is merely backdrop for some short exposition, and musically the scene gets as creaky as the cannons the soldiers roll out.
Tenor Stephen Costello’s Christian role is underwritten. Because it’s vital for him to emit a similar sound to Cyrano’s upper timbre, he needs more of an attack with the solo material he’s given. His powerful voice is heard only in flashes.
Soprano Evelyn Pollock (gorgeous, despite some bilious couture) confronts similar vocal challenges as well: She’s saddled with a great deal of singing but no real show-stopping aria. Her Roxane burst forth with bombastic end phrasing, but seems (unlike Pop) to lose character focus in the quieter passages.
Uzan’s unfussy pacing keeps the group scenes lively, but some of the more intimate scenes among the lead players could be more inventive. The closing scenes are operatically sentimental and could benefit from a little surgery from Cyrano’s lance. No matter what the changes, Cyrano the opera should enjoy a future life, if only because it’s so much more ambitious than an ariatic vehicle for a familiar story.
To read another review by Jim Rutter, click here.
To read another review by Steve Cohen, click here.
To read another review by Tom Purdom, click here.
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