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Première of David DiChiera’s Cyrano

Academy of Music
02/08/2008 -  and February 10, 13, 15, 17
David DiChiera: Cyrano
Eric Dubin (Marquis de Brisaille), Torrance Blaisdell (Marquis de Cuigny/Capucin), Kenneth Kellogg (Lignière), Stephen Costello (Christian), Mark T. Panuccio (Ragueneau), Daniel Teadt (Le Bret), DeAndre Simmons (Un Inconnu/Carbon), Christopher Hodges (Montfleury), Marian Pop (Cyrano), Peter Volpe (De Guiche), Kathleen Segar (La Duègne), Evelyn Pollock (Roxane)
Donald Edmund Thomas (lighting designer), Elizabeth Braden (chorus master), Christopher Barbeau (fight coordinator) Metropolitan Orchestra, Stefan Lano (conductor)
Bernard Uzan (stage director), John Pascoe (set and costume designer)

The Opera Company of Philadelphia capped its first season in 1976 with the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Hero. A decade ago, general director Robert Driver tried to bring Christopher Drobny’s Kissing and Other Horrid Strife and Richard Wargo’s Ballymore to the stage, but he cancelled both operas after the company ran into financial difficulties. In recent seasons, the company has been more adventurous. Following up the local première of Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner two years ago, the OCP is presenting the first East Coast performance of Cyrano, an opera by David DiChiera and Bernard Uzan based on Edmond Rostand’s French classic.
Cyrano - like Danielpour's opera - arrives in a handsome production devised by the Michigan Opera Theatre, the opera company in Detroit founded and directed by the composer. The budget for the production was reportedly $1 million. John Pascoe’s designs suggest Michigan Opera Theatre got some visual value for its investment. Pascoe's impressive sets and lovely costumes drew applause at the February 8 opening at the Academy of Music.
A new opera needs more than handsome sets and costumes. Uzan's libretto cannily compresses Rostand's play into three substantial acts. The libretto proves more faithful to Rostand than the version crafted by Henri Cain for Franco Alfano. Uzan captures the characters more fully and motivates the action with greater care.
DiChiera's conservative score, orchestrated by Mark D. Flint, sounds as if it could have been written a century ago. There is a lot of music in this opera – with two intermissions, the performance lasts 200 minutes - but most of the score is unmemorable. DiChiera proves he can write lovely melodies, but he fails to fashion scenes that have dramatic depth or musical intensity. The composer crafts some soaring vocal lines in the second-act balcony scene and suggests a touching note of sorrow and regret in the final scene as Roxane discovers the dying Cyrano was, in fact, the man whose words won her heart. A long scene for Cyrano and Roxane in the second act starts promisingly but quickly meanders. At the composer’s request, Uzan supplied the words for a quintet in the second act. DiChiera fashions a static ensemble that refuses to blossom. In the opening scene of the final act, the composer’s inspiration falters. He does not compose music that illustrates the siege of Arras nor does he touch the heart in the reunion of Christian and Roxane. Christian’s dull death scene is something of an anti-climax. Too much of DiChiera’s music lacks rhythmic impetus and harmonic tension.
As stage director, Uzan tries to supply the drama missing from the uninspired music. Aided by Pascoe's imposing sets, he fills the stage with decisive movement. The bustling opening scene in the Hall of the Hôtel de Bourgogne is musically inert, but Uzan overlays DiChiera’s monotonous music with vivid action.
The cast proves variable. Sporting a long nose that looks like a piece of white putty, Marian Pop makes a touching Cyrano. The Romanian baritone suggests the poet's tenderness better than he conveys his swashbuckling bravado. He sings well if not memorably. How could he make much of a vocal impression when DiChiera’s vocal lines sit in the middle of his voice for most of the evening? To Roxane, Evelyn Pollack brings a lovely stage presence and a voice of varying quality. Pollack suspends some delicately shining high notes, but when she opens up, her voice turns shrill and edgy. Like her singing, the soprano’s callow acting lacks emotional depth. Pollock simply does not command the dramatic skills to suggest Roxane’s complex character.
Interest focuses on the OCP debut of Stephen Costello as Christian. A local tenor trained at the Academy of Vocal Arts. Costello made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Arturo on opening night in September in the new production of Lucia di Lammermoor. He made such a strong impression, he was given a performance as Edgardo and has further engagements at the Met in upcoming seasons. As Christian, Costello sings engagingly and does his best to convey a depth of character lacking in the music. He returns next season to sing Rinuccio in the OCP’s Gianni Schicchi.
The rest of the cast proves less appealing. Peter Volpe brings physical command to De Guiche, but his bass voice sounds indistinctive. Kathleen Segar sings the Duègne's music in a quavery, hollow voice. Stefan Lano leads a solid musical performance. But neither the chorus nor the orchestra produces the quality or quantity of sound needed for this opera.

Robert Baxter



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