Cyrano at The Opera Company of Philadelphia

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

Cyrano is DiChieraís 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 1950ís and 60ís, 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 Cyranoís 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 Cyranoís 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
ìpanacheî. The other two major characters, Roxane and Christian, were
played by former students at Philadelphiaís Academy of Vocal Arts. Soprano
Evelyn Pollack could easily be imagined as the object of Christianís
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 Christianís love, she
was less so as a witty prÈcieuses 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, Roxaneís would be seducer. The minor roles were ably

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 ìconceptî production in which
the music and story are subservient to a directorial ìvision.î But, the
ultimate moments in opera are musicalómoments when the music doesnít just
serve the story, but elevates or transcends it. And, alas, I cannot say I
found many such moments in Cyrano.

Stephen Luebke

image_description=David DiChiera: Cyrano
product_title=David DiChiera: Cyrano
The Opera Company of Philadelphia
February 8, 2008
product_by=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).