By Michael H. Margolin
If a theatrical production is a hit, it is said to “have legs” that will continue to carry it on. David DiChiera’s “Cyrano,” which had its world premiere at the Detroit Opera House last Saturday evening, is a giant, towering over many contemporary works by more famous composers.
There are many things to applaud, and the audience did, immediately rising to its feet at the final curtain for a tumultuous recognition for the cast, the fine production and the very accessible score by MOT’s peripatetic general director.
“Cyrano” – eight years in the composition and $1.8 million to produce – is based on the widely known play by Edmund Rostand that has had frequent revivals as well as screen and operatic treatments. The play dramatizes the life of a Renaissance man and swordsman in 19th century Paris: Though born with a disfiguring nose of great length and breadth (“It is a promontory, nay a peninsula” says self-mocking Cyrano in the play) he is a wit and a passionate man.
He is in love with Roxane and she, in turn, is in love with the beautiful Christian, a new recruit in Cyrano’s army unit, the Cadets. What reads like farce, but is written for pathos is that Cyrano refuses to declare his love, fearing rejection, but mentors Christian, writing love letters to Roxane for him. She falls in love with “Christian’s” words and his physical beauty, and Cyrano loves by proxy. At the end, both are dead and Roxane has learned, too late, the truth: “I have loved but one man and lost him twice.”
Bernard Uzan, a frequent collaborator with DiChiera and Michigan Opera Theatre, is a French speaker and has adapted the text, in French – seen with surtitles – as well as directing the production. His adaptation is a good one, retaining much of the wit and some of the word play of the original and doing no harm to the poetic, unrequited love, theme. (The second act is genuinely funny.)
The first act is an hour long – a great deal of plot and many characters to be introduced – but where it sags, the music holds it buoyantly aloft. The act ends with a duet for Cyrano and Christian, “I will be your soul, you will be my beauty” of such eloquence that the act’s length is forgiven.
As a director, Uzan is good at the crowd scenes, though in the very beginning it is difficult to distinguish the characters who have brief sung lines in front of the crowd; poor Roxane who has no music to sing in the first scene is not given enough directorial support. Later, Christian’s death scene is somehow flat, inconclusive where it should be sharp. But, these are small matters in what is a well paced, vivid production.
DiChiera’s music, though, needs no exegesis: Composing for a huge orchestra of some 60 plus musicians, he has written a score that harkens back to the late Romantic era, which would be comfortable in the Paris Opera house; to that musical quilt, he has added strands of 20th century dissonance. This is rounded off with bursts of Puccini-like vocal and musical declamation. There are arias, ariettas, duets, choruses and a quintet near the end of Act II that literally stopped the show because of audience enthusiasm.
Major credit must go to Mark Flint, the conductor, who also serves, brilliantly, as the orchestrator. He has brought a broad palette of colors to the music, using horns and woodwinds with great expressiveness, especially in counterpoint to the singing, and employing the violins to maximum, sentimental effect. It is a remarkable reflection of the composer’s intentions.
The set and costume design are by John Pascoe, whose previous efforts at MOT have never been less than splendid and often stunning. Here he has captured France in the time of the bourgeoisie, the neo-classical period, with touches of Rococo, elegant and emotionally evocative. His teammate on lighting, Donald Edmund Thomas, has bathed the scenes in tawny, lifelike golden tones and for the battlefield scene – like an etching out of Goya’s “The Horrors of War” – a wrathful sky with dramatic rays.
This would come to naught without the right cast, and three principals glow like beacons.
As Cyrano, Romanian baritone Marian Pop is heroic, valiant, poetic, excellent in movement and thrilling vocally, bringing eclat to his high notes. As an actor, he is adroit. The two aspects often come together, as in the extended “Nose” aria.
Roxane is sung by Leah Partridge. Her voice is creamy with a solid, open top – much of her music is written for the middle to the top – and her letter aria in Act II is ravishing. She is a beautiful, young American singer who can act.
As Christian, Jose Luis Sola sings with a handsome high tenor, nailing the notes and giving a convincing portrayal of a callow young man with more lust in his pants than love in his heart.
In the large supporting cast – there are nine named roles – Peter Volpe is a menacing and mellifluous De Guiche. Suzanne Acton, chorus master, gets wonderful sound from the chorus in two rousing tunes, Act 1’s “Yes, we will walk” and the Cadet’s song.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
Michigan Opera Theatre at the Detroit Opera House,1526 Broadway, Detroit. Oct. 17, 20 & 26 at 7:30 p.m.; and Oct. 28 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $25-$147. For information: 313-237-7464 or http://www.michiganopera.org