BWW Review: Big Nose, Big Heart, Big Performance from Roberto Alagna as Met's CYRANO

BWW Review: Big Nose, Big Heart, Big Performance from Roberto Alagna as Met's CYRANO
Jennifer Rowley and Roberto Alagna.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

I first heard tenor Roberto Alagna in the days when he was being touted as "The 4th Tenor"--chutzpah that only a record company could come up with for a burgeoning performer, placing him in the hallowed company of Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti.

Fast forward more than 20 years and he's still here. As Cyrano, the soldier-poet with a nose that embarrasses him, in Francesca Zambello's attractive production, Alagna was wonderful--perhaps the best I've ever seen him in the many performances he has headlined since his debut (with ex-wife Angela Gheoghiou in BOHEME) in 1996.

I don't know whether the Met mounted this revival of Alfano's CYRANO DE BERGERAC as part of a thank-you for his stepping into last season's new MANON LESCAUT when Jonas Kaufmann dropped out at the last minute, but we should be grateful for it.

Alagna showed off his first-rate skills as an actor, which is key to success in this role, since no one's really coming just for the music by Franco Alfano, known primarily for being chosen by Toscanini to finish Puccini's TURANDOT. Don't get me wrong. There's some beautiful music here, from Puccini-ish and verismo-ish to a style all his own, but it mostly works best in conjunction with the drama of the libretto (by Henri Cain) to make the evening a success.

BWW Review: Big Nose, Big Heart, Big Performance from Roberto Alagna as Met's CYRANO
Roberto Alagna, center, and Atalla Ayan,
below Jennifer Rowley. Photo:
Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

This was particularly true in the balcony scene where, hidden in the darkness, he feeds lines to help the lunky, hunky Christian woo the fair Roxane. (After acting as Christian's prompter throughout much of the opera, perhaps that's why Alagna heartily shook hands with the Met's prompter--who lies hidden in a confine space beneath the stage during the performance--when the opera was through.) And the role fit Alagna's muscular voice to a tee, lying in the middle range where he is extremely comfortable, and he seemed to relish every bit of it, passing along his enthusiasm to the audience.

His beloved Roxane was soprano Jennifer Rowley, who stepped in when Patricia Racette decided not to do the role, and sounded as if she were waiting her whole life for the opportunity. Rowley made her Met debut a couple of seasons ago as Musetta in LA BOHEME, and her portrayals seemed somewhat similar, with a somewhat blowsy exterior masking her more sensitive side. She has an attractive, clear voice, no doubt about it, but she I wished she could have better modulated the volume of it--forte only worked for part of the role. Nonetheless, her "recognition" scene at the opera's end, as Cyrano lay dying and she realizes that the words she loved were his and not Christian's, was quite moving.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.