The Royal Opera – Cyrano de Bergerac [Domingo & Radvanovsky]

Cyrano de Bergerac – Commedia eroica in four acts [Sung in French]

Cyrano – Plácido Domingo
Roxane – Sondra Radvanovsky
Christian – Raymond Very
De Guiche – Roman Trekel
Le Bret – Iain Paterson
Ragueneau – Carmelo Corrado Caruso
Liguière – Jeremy White
Montfleury – Daniel André Pageon
Vicomete de Valvert / Spanish Officer – Mark Stone
The Duenna – Frances McCafferty
Cook – Nigel Cliffe
Lisa – Sarah Pring
Musketeer – John Bernays
Carbon – Clive Bayley
Sentinel I – Neil Gillespie
Sentinel II – John Heath
Mother Superior – Elizabeth Sikora

Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Mark Elder

Director – Francesco Zambello
Designer – Peter J. Davison
Costumes – Anita Yavich
Lighting – Natasha Katz

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 8 May, 2006
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Plácido Domingo creates his 25th role at the Royal Opera House with his assumption of the long-nosed hero of Franco Alfano’s 1936 opera, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, based upon Edmond Rostand’s original play. Conducted with typical authority by Mark Elder and co-starring the two principal artists who appeared with Domingo in Francesca Zambello’s sumptuous production first seen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera this time last year – Sondra Radvanovsky as Roxane and Raymond Very as Christian – the biggest question was whether there was good reason for the absence of this work from most stages over the 70 years since its composition.

I suspect there will be many who will pontificate that, indeed, were it not for Domingo’s advocacy, there would be no reason for this opera being revived – but I’m not so sure. Yes, you can argue that Alfano merely cherry-picked scenes common in other, more famous operas – especially the third and fourth acts: the first a battle scene (for which see “La Forza del Destino”, “War and Peace” – although the latter was written later, of course) and then a tear-jerking denouement over a death-bed (“La traviata, La bohème”), but there is a distinctive and sure-footed individual compositional voice that made me warm very much to Alfano.

It took the first half slowly to persuade me, but after the interval the dramatic pacing (apart from the scene-changing, of which more anon) and musical style were unerring and, frankly, gripping. The latter is Italianate certainly, but not without a nod to wider, international influences; perhaps not the functionalism of Hindemith, but certainly learning from the likes of Korngold or Zemlinsky, and Alfano has a good sense for character and word-setting.

The plot sees long-nosed and, however brave, rather diffident Cyrano who – while in love with Roxane himself – agrees to help young and beautiful fellow-soldier Christian woo Roxane with his way with words. Yes, it may be hard to credit Roxane’s love for beautiful prose outweighs her love of handsome features. The plot’s whole edifice pivots on the fact that she would have loved Cyrano, even with his nose, if only she had known he was the one who had written her the love letters she thought had been written by Christian. Indeed the second scene of the second act sees a wooing below Roxane’s balcony which, in the face of Christian’s hapless replies, Roxane is all set to shut him out altogether until Cyrano imitates Christian and wins the day, literally (or should that be literary?). Also some of the sub-plotting seems rather incidental – a cook (and friend of Cyrano’s) Ragueneau gets fired but eventually is hired by Roxane to bring much-needed rations to the Gascon company in the midst of battle – but there again you can level that accusation about the whole oeuvre!

So, what we are left with is a touching lead-role, extremely well taken by Domingo, belying his years, buckling his swash with the best of them in the early scenes and, in essence, a reversal of normal operatic form – here it is the man who dies in the arms of the woman (Isolde and Tosca are not really analogous). Domingo’s French may not be truly idiomatic (but this is not in any sense a French cast), but his singing is intelligent and always great to listen to; and, of course, he has always been one of the finest actors on the operatic stage.

While Radvanovsky and Very shine rarely as brightly as Domingo does, they more than adequately flesh-out their roles and Zambello’s production is grand in the grandest of senses. Ragueneau’s kitchen and a street scene, complete with streamlined buildings and two separate streets follow the first act’s three-tiered theatre gallery and stage. After the interval we find ourselves in the thick of battle with the Gascons, with a tower three-storeys high accommodating most of the men, while the final act is set rather beautifully in a sequestered set of cloisters, brightly lit to start and slowly darkening as the sun sets.

In all this Peter J Davison’s designs are rather old-fashioned and the one problem for this production at the Royal Opera House is the stage changes, exacerbated by the house lights that are slightly raised for the pauses, which each take at least five minutes. Presumably at the Metropolitan, where the scene bays are larger and the technology allows the stage to be changed almost instantaneously, there were no such hiatuses.

But on the whole this rediscovery is not only a worthy one for the Royal Opera House to be involved with, but also a very enjoyable one. I would happily see it again, especially in such a handsome, if not particularly challenging production as Zambello’s.

  • Performances on 11, 17 & 24 May at 7.30; on 14 May at 3 o’clock; on 27 May at 7.00
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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