DiChiera’s impassioned music makes FGO’s “Cyrano” take flight
With soaring music, exciting swordplay and elaborate sets that bring 17th-century France to vibrant life, Florida Grand Opera’s production of David DiChiera’s Cyrano is a contemporary opera for people whose tastes usually run to Verdi and Puccini.
The opera, which opened Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami, tells the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, celebrated soldier, scientist and poet, who believes his enormous nose prevents him from ever achieving romantic love. DiChiera’s music is melodic and passionate, a fresh, energetic modern expression of rich 19th-century harmonies, with a couple of melodies that will stay with you as you leave the opera house.
The major flaw in Cyrano is that, even in its revised form, the first act drags. The action becomes a talky morass with too many characters yakking to each other set alongside big “operatic” set pieces that seem to exist more to establish the work’s ambitions than to serve any musical or dramatic values.
But after the first act, the opera improves sharply, with the action picking up and several climactic moments that deliver the dramatic and musical goods.
DiChiera, general director of Michigan Opera Theatre, came late to composing, having given up his original ambition to become a composer when his Neo-Romantic style was dismissed by professors imbued in the arid, academic music of the 1960s.
Musically the opera is clearly the work of a man of the theater. The opera sets up and delivers its big moments successfully, such as the balcony scene in Act 2 where Cyrano secretly feeds lines of romantic eloquence to Roxane’s lover, while yearning for her himself. The scene at the French military camp makes you feel the cold, fear and hunger in your bones, with DiChiera — and his orchestrator Mark Flint — creating grimly resonant music in the brass.
Singers in all the leading roles turned in superb performances, continuing this year’s quality casting, a dramatic turnaround from the highly uneven personnel of FGO’s recent seasons.
As Cyrano, the Romanian baritone Marian Pop was a commanding, heroic figure. Costumed like one of the Three Musketeers – with a false nose big enough to be a liability yet not so large as to be ridiculous – he wielded his sword and his wit through the three acts to dominate the production. Although Pop’s voice occasionally was covered by the orchestra, he brought a warm, romantic tone to his singing that expressed the character’s touching desire for love.
Leah Partridge, the Georgia-born soprano who has long been an FGO favorite, was effectively cast as the romantic object of Cyrano’s desire, Roxane. The singer spends much of the opera in the vocal ionosphere where she is clearly comfortable, easily spinning out high notes in DiChiera’s long, arching melodies. While Partridge’s rich, focused voice was clearly up to the role’s vocal demands, her tone was often strident, and dramatically she only fitfully conveyed the charm and gentleness that is also a part of the character.
The role of Christian, Roxane’s handsome, not-so-bright lover, went, unsurprisingly, to a tenor. The young French singer Sébastien Guèz brought a real leading man’s voice to the role, allowing some rawness to creep into his singing at moments of high passion. The new aria that DiChiera has written for the third act, in which Christian realizes Roxane really loves not him but Cyrano, is a classic grand opera show-stopper, and Guèz delivered it with a depth and emotional edge that gave the character a redeeming integrity.
The powerful Comte de Guiche is given music of Wagnerian menace by DiChiera, and was admirably portrayed by the bass Peter Volpe.
FGO’s co-production with Michigan Opera Theatre and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, where Cyrano has already been performed, has a big-budget feel with sets and costumes by John Pascoe that present detailed evocations of Roxane’s balcony, a Parisian pastry shop and a snow-covered military camp.
The skillful stage direction of Bernard Uzan — also the opera’s librettist — kept the action focused on the leading characters while maintaining clarity in crowd scenes and helping the audience follow the narrative in this new work.
The opera’s orchestrator Mark Flint conducted briskly, keeping the action moving, bringing real excitement to Cyrano’s heroic music and allowing the love themes to emerge naturally without wallowing in excess. The orchestra handled the score well, aside from a few brass foibles and intonation problems in the strings. The wind writing in this work was particularly evocative, especially in the final scene, and the orchestra did it justice.
Florida Grand Opera’s production of David DiChiera’s Cyrano continues through May 7 at the Arsht Center in Miami. www.fgo.org; 800-741-1010.
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Sun Apr 24, 2011
at 2:26 pm