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David DiChiera: Cyrano
02 Mar 2008

Cyrano at The Opera Company of Philadelphia

The Opera Company of Philadelphia’s February production is the second staging of David DiChiera’s new opera Cyrano, a co-production with Michigan Opera Theater and Florida Grand Opera.

David DiChiera: Cyrano
The Opera Company of Philadelphia
February 8, 2008

Marian Pop (Cyrano), Evelyn Pollock (Roxane), Stephen Costello (Christian), Peter Volpe (Deguiche), Daniel Teadt (Le Bret), Mark T. Panuccio (Ragueneau), Kathleen Segar (Duegne), Torrance Blaisdell (Capucin), Stefan Lano (conductor), Bernard Uzan (director).

 

The libretto by Bernard Uzan is based on Edmond Rostand’s famous drama Cyrano de Bergerac, and is written in French. Uzan also directed the production. The score was orchestrated by Mark D. Flint, DiChiera’s frequent collaborator, and the orchestra was conducted by Stefan Lano.

Cyrano is DiChiera’s first opera, written relatively late in his life after a long and successful career as an impresario, particularly as founder of Michigan Opera Theater which premiered this production. He studied composition in the 1950’s and 60’s, but his Puccini-influenced style was not in fashion at that time. In this opera he returns to those musical roots. But like first operas by much younger composers, Cyrano seems a bit derivative. Its style has the feel of music from a century ago with touches of Korngold. But, if it breaks no new ground and shows no great originality, it is pleasing, accessible, and celebrates the singers, which is not always true of other modern works or modern productions. The music is weakest in the over-long first act, which seemed to bog down in dense orchestration and lack of a clear sense of musical direction. Had the opera ended after the first act, it would have been a disappointment. However, in the second and third acts the action focuses on the love story and here DiChiera hits his stride. His music carries the romantic story forward in melodic exchanges between the main characters, capturing the poignancy of Cyrano’s unfulfilled love. In these later acts the music was moving and enjoyable. But I could not escape the feeling that the opera was libretto- driven and lacked identifiable musical high points. In most great operas there are clear moments when the music takes over or dominates the story. After Cyrano I could remember dramatic high points, but not musical ones.

The young Romanian baritone Marian Pop sang Cyrano with a clear tone and lovely color, especially in the upper part of his range, and was affecting in portraying the bittersweet nature of Cyrano’s situation as the mouthpiece for his companion Christian. However, one wished for more vocal heft and bravura acting in the first act to convey what Cyrano calls his “panache”. The other two major characters, Roxane and Christian, were played by former students at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. Soprano Evelyn Pollack could easily be imagined as the object of Christian’s infatuation and she displayed a bright and agile voice overall. However, she did seem to struggle on occasion with some harshness and insecurity in the upper register. And while convincing as the object of Christian’s love, she was less so as a witty précieuses who so easily and cruelly dismisses the supposedly beloved Christian for the banality of his professions of love. Christian is primarily a foil for Cyrano in the opera, and does not have much opportunity to shine, but tenor Stephen Costello sang the role solidly, if sometimes a bit stiffly. In his brief appearances Eric Dubin showed off a rich baritone and an aristocratic manner as the Marquise de Brisaille, Roxane’s would be seducer. The minor roles were ably filled.

After the music and libretto, the third important element of opera is artistic design, and here this production really shone. It is dominated by ornate and elaborate sets and costumes designed by John Pascoe, which are well-suited to the romantic story and music. On several occasions the audience was moved to applaud the set as the curtain rose. The designs also represent a certain vision of what opera should be that matches that found in the music and libretto.

Where this opera succeeds is in its reverent musical adaptation of a classic play and its well-crafted expression of certain operatic virtues. And these deserve praise and may be enough to bring it long-term success. In this regard it is the antithesis of the modern “concept” production in which the music and story are subservient to a directorial “vision.” But, the ultimate moments in opera are musical—moments when the music doesn’t just serve the story, but elevates or transcends it. And, alas, I cannot say I found many such moments in Cyrano.

Stephen Luebke

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