Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Plácido Domingo as Cyrano de Bergerac [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
02 Nov 2010

Cyrano de Bergerac in San Francisco

Franco Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac at the San Francisco Opera has little chance of measuring up to a Cyrano standard once set here in Fog City.

Franco Alfano: Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac: Plácido Domingo; Roxane: Ainhoa Arteta; Christian de Neuveville: Thiago Arancam; De Guiche: Stephen Powell; Carbon: Lester Lynch; Ragueneau: Brian Mulligan; Le Bret: Timothy Mix; Lisa, A Sister: Leah Crocetto; The Duenna, Sister Marta: Maya Lahyani; Vicomte de Valvert, The Spanish Official, A Cook: Austin Kness; Montfleury: Martin Rojas-Dietrich; Sentinels: David Gustafson / Christopher Jackson; Lignière, A Musketeer: Bojan Knezevic. Conductor: Patrick Fournillier. Director: Petrika Ionesco. Set Designer: Petrika Ionesco. Costume Designer: Lili Kendaka. Lighting Designer: Petrika Ionesco. Fencing Choreographer: François Rostain.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Cyrano de Bergerac

All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

There are those of us who remember the San Francisco American Conservatory Theater’s Peter Donat as Cyrano and his Roxanne, Marsha Mason, unleashing floods of spellbinding lyricism in the Geary Theater. This was back in the 1970‘s, the mere recollection sets the local Cyrano benchmark impossibly high.

Cyrano the seventeenth century dramatist and Cyrano, Edmund Rostrand’s Belle Époque hero dealt in the spoken word. The rhythm and music is already there. Franco Alfano, a twentieth century post-Romantic opera composer adds only more opulence to Rostrand’s 1898 already opulently verbal masterpiece but he cannot surmount Rostrand’s lyrical flights — his extravagant music simply overwhelms the more modest art form.

Near the end of his long life Henri Caïn (Massenet’s well-experienced librettist) provided Alfano with this easily workable libretto of Rostrand’s Cyrano, each act with its central lyrical episode surrounded by lively battle scenes. Alfano’s advanced Romantic compositional technique responded to these scenes with music that rivals Meistersinger’s midsummer night’s riot and Otello’s storm, and this complex, descriptive music is indeed effective. But when Alfano wishes to describe emotions his music teeters on the edge of insincerity as its sheer size and sheen betrays all intimacy.

Enter the grand old man of opera, Plácido Domingo, veteran of opera’s greatest lyric moments! Though now he is too old to be Cyrano his presence alone is enough to enliven the lyric muse. And perhaps he has always been Cyrano, his art coming so easily to him that it can become real only in the person of another, a character he plays. In the Rostrand Cyrano it is handsome, young Christian who takes his voice. But Domingo is no longer young, and perhaps this does not matter as Rostrand has his Cyrano die fourteen years after this torrid love poetry is spoken, and now, near death most movingly repeated by the aged tenorissimo.

Just last year this Cyrano was produced at the Châtelet theater in Paris. It is rare that the Châtelet produces, preferring to search out productions of opera and music theater that are famous or infamous and need therefore to be seen in Paris. So this Cyrano was conceived as a boutique production to compete with the rarest and finest of Europe’s opera productions.

It has survived its translocation to San Francisco, no longer a boutique production here but as part of a repertory season. It profits greatly from San Francisco Opera’s superb orchestra that overcame with ease the difficult score and made Alfano’s descriptive music glow at the direction of St. Etienne’s Patrick Fournillier, a Massenet specialist. Both the Roxanne, Ainhoa Arteta, and her lover Christian, Thiago Arancam are from the Domingo cadre. Mme. Arteta provides a lovely figure as Cyrano’s muse but her fine soprano does not possess the beauty of tone one could wish for Roxanne. The same could be said of tenor Arancam who otherwise made a good Christian.

ArancamArtet.pngThiago Arancam as Christian and Ainhoa Arteta as Roxane

The supporting roles may not have a panache equal to their Parisian counterparts but showed San Francisco Opera as a truly fine ensemble company, specifically the villain De Guiche sung by Stephen Powell, the baker Ragueneau sung by Brian Mulligan who here proves that he belongs in character roles, and the lieutenant Le Bret sung by Timothy Mix. The drunken Bojan Knezevic stands out as well, as do Adler Fellows Austin Kness and Maya Lahyani in various roles.

The Châtelet Cyrano is above all else cinematic, a style that well fits the swashbuckling Cyrano (well, he did manage some fairly quick moves) with very flashy swordsmanship surprisingly executed without mishap by eight fencing acrobats. The cinematic staging also pointed out the cinematic nature of Alfani’s intimate music, small movements of spirit sonically magnified to full-screen proportion. What was once verismo was by the mid 1930‘s neo-verismo well on its way to becoming movie melodrama.

Romanian opera director Petrika Ionesco staged this Cyrano de Bergerac in the way that Parisians love — nostalgic longing for the bloodiest and the artiest moments of their history, and a dose of kitsch as well. Mr. Ionesco has staged both Aida and Nabucco at the 80,000 seat Stadt de France and The Millennium Project and Continents on Parade at EuroDisney (near Paris). Here is a man that knows pageantry.

DomingoSoldiers.pngLester Lynch as Carbon, Plácido Domingo as Cyrano de Bergerac and the soldiers

Colorful theater, good opera and one of San Francisco Opera’s finer recent moments.

Roberto Alagna was the Cyrano in the Opéra National de Montpellier’s Alfano Cyrano in 2008. No doubt a San Francisco debut by this tenor would generate an enthusiasm equal to that of this Domingo return (if not the nostalgia). For the record the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier revived several late verismo operas in the early years of this new century, notably operas by Alfani, Franchetti, and Mascagni.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):