David Di Chiera’s Cyrano at Florida Grand Opera9:45, 12th February 2013
Review by Karyl Charna Lynn
It is always risky for a composer to turn a classic story that has survived decades or centuries as a powerful and moving play into an opera. The only justification for taking masterpieces like these is if the music adds another dimension or layer of emotion to the work that words alone did not or could not. This is particularly true with David Di Chiera choosing Cyrano for his first full-length opera, based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 classic French masterpiece, Cyrano de Bergerac. But Di Chiera proved that he was up to the challenge in his revised version of Cyrano, which premiered on 23 April 2011 at the Florida Grand Opera in Miami, Florida.
With some nipping and tucking, Act II and III have become masterpieces of musical and dramatic integrity that captured the poignancy and tragedy of Cyrano as well as expressing the universal truth that “Beauty is only skin deep,” in a gripping and touching fashion with powerful vocal lines, overarching music, and sweeping melodies. An unabashedly Neo-Romantic score, Puccini-esque in nature, with some Verdi sprinkled on top, it conveys the characters’ emotional turmoil and heartfelt love with the delicate beauty of Butterfly, the blazing power of Turandot and the final heartbreak of La bohème.
The music is at times flowery and majestic, even bordering on bombastic, and other times reflective and heart-wrenching, like when Cyrano sings “Il m’interdit le rêve d’être aimé meme par une laide” (It forbids me the dream to be loved even by the most ugly woman.) Other highpoints were during Act II when Cyrano, hidden in the shadows beneath the balcony, secretly supplied Christian romantic lines to help him express his love to Roxane, while longing for Roxane himself, and the new (self-reflection) aria in Act III that Di Chiera wrote for Christian to express his feelings when he realized that Roxane really loved Cyrano.
The only weak link is the first part of Act I which needs some streamlining and dramatic tension with its large number of characters, and recitative. Director Bernard Uzan (who also wrote the libretto) did a masterful direction job in Acts II and III where the performance is tight, focused, flowing, and involving. He, too, seemed overwhelmed by Act I, adding irrelevant activities like bakers dancing, while pumping cakes and loaves of bread up and down with their arms while twirling around to keep the action flowing.
Di Chiera wrote the two leads with specific singers in mind, a practice common in the 18th and 19th centuries: baritone Marian Pop as Cyrano and soprano Leah Partridge as Roxane. They did not disappoint. Partridge possesses a full, rich voice, captivating in its beauty and grace, although occasionally her tone and intonation sounded forced and strident. Pop’s commanding presence and gallant deportment made a truly heroic Cyrano and his finely nuanced performance expressed his character’s emotional gamut. Sébastien Guèze, as the handsome lover Christian, sang with a ringing, piercing, sensuousness that at times mesmerized, marred only by a coarseness that crept into his voice during the intensely passionate moments. Guèze mustered his finest singing for the new aria delving into his emotional reserves to deliver the goods.
The opera unfolded against imaginative recreations of 17th century France including a pastry shop, Roxane’s balcony, and a French military camp. Maestro Mark Flint led the orchestra with a firm grip and keen understanding of the score (he also did the orchestration) that brought the music’s richness into focus.
FGO’s Cyrano runs until 7 May 2011. The company’s 2011-2012 season opens on 12 November with Federico Moreno Torroba’s zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, followed by Puccini’s La rondine, Verdi’s Rigoletto, and concluding on 12 May 2012 with Gounod’s Roméo & Juliette.