Alagna and Alfano's "Cyrano": Panache!
A most remarkable DVD. Just about every aspect of this production from Montpellier Opera is flawless, making as strong a case for a revival of this opera as possible. First off, there is the Cyrano of Roberto Alagna. We first see him before the opera starts darting down the stairs of the opera house and running through the lobby. Once the opera begins, he makes a sensational entrance from the back of the house, moving among the audience, before hopping up on the stage. Second, the production by the Alagna Brothers is a sumptuous, visual feast full of color, marvelous stage effects and, when called for, theatrical simplicity.
There is no way to describe Alagna's Cyrano as anything less than sensational. In excellent voice, with thrilling top notes and his natural French the text is sung with elegance and plenty of panache. Whether running, strutting like a peacock, swashbuckling or hiding from view, Alagna's every move is executed with the elegant grace of a dancer. It is a joy watching someone have this much fun in a role. He executes some fine sword fighting and even as diminutive as he is, makes this character larger than life. His arioso "Oh! Paris!," which ends the first scene begins so hauntingly, beautiful building to a crashing, thrilling conclusion. The call to arms for the Cadets of Gascony (I don't know what it's properly called) is as rousing as one could hope for. If Alagna's Cyrano had called, I'd have rushed to join the Muskateers, too!
Richard Troxell strikes all the right balances as Christian. The duet between he and Cyrano pledging their allegiance to become "one man" develops beautifully, and rushes into an breathless finish. Anyone who criticizes Alfano's gifts as a composer needs only hear this duet to be proven wrong.
The music opening Act II is the equal to Massenet in Manon at conveying both musically, and eloquently, a sense of a specific time and place without actually resorting to composing 18th century style music.
What a gem is the Roxane of Nathalie Manfrino. Physically and vocally she could be the twin of Christiane Oelze - nowhere more so then in the final act where, with Alfano's so very French music she recalls Oelze as Melisande. Manfrino is a genuine beauty and the voice, a lovely lyric with some wonderful bloom to the top notes, constantly impresses. Like Alagna (and Troxell) her acting felt genuine, one believed her Roxane at every turn. There were times I was a little angry with her shallowness and cruelty towards Christiane, but it all works out.
The physical production by the tenor's brothers David and Frederico, along with costumes by Christian Gasc make this a visual feast. I don't know how long they all worked on this, but the flow of this Cyrano, the quality and naturalness of the acting (particularly Alagna's title character) is as fine as one could hope to see from any opera video.
There were plenty of gorgeous musical highlights; the amazing Balcony Duet, with everybody firing on all cylinders; the wordless chorus sung by the soldiers . . . , so many others.
It is, however, the final act that absolutely destroys me. Alfano's heavy use of woodwinds, descending scales on flute, a vibrant buzz of reeds, and with swirling strings, it could easily be mistaken for Debussy (especially with the uniformly excellent French coming from this cast). Alagna's transformation of Cyrano, from cocky showman to now a tired and frail man, (but no less proud) is a heart breaker. As soon as he arrives at the convent, it is evident the tenor is giving one of the best performances of his life. As death approaches, the score grows more and more delicate, with unaccompanied passages sung by Roxane (also reminiscent of Debussy's Melisande), but branded with Alfano's own original stamp (which I'm getting to know better and better). As Cyrano reads the final letter to Roxane, the clarinet takes up the soaring melody and it shoots right to the heart in music that is nearly overwhelmingly poignant.
The efforts of all involved pay off in a wonderfully theatrical and musically exquisite performance. For the longest time I believed Alagna could do nothing better than his performance in that amazing Bond prodeuction of Don Carlos from the Chatelet, but this Cyrano truly is a creature that touched me as profoundly as any I can think of.