BWW Review: Big Nose, Big Heart, Big Performance from Roberto Alagna as Met's CYRANO
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.
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.
The third leg of the romantic triangle was tenor Atalla Ayan as Christian, the handsome soldier (with the bad wig) unable to express himself, who becomes the vehicle for Cyrano--of the long snout and heady poetry--to express his own love for Roxane. Ayan's tenor is attractive and light--one that I wouldn't mind hearing again in a more lyric piece.
Baritone Juan Jesus Rodriguez got high marks for his blustery de Guiche (a rival for Roxane who never had a chance), as did baritone David Pittsinger as le Bret, Cyrano's pal.
Peter J. Davison's scenic design, with Natasha Katz' lighting, was first-rate, particularly in the opening scene in the theatre of the Hotel de Bourgogne, where Cyrano is introduced, chasing out the hammy actor from the stage, and in Act IV, the convent where Roxane has retreated after Christian's death. Anita Yavich did the appealing costuming.
Marco Armiliato and the Met orchestra kept the performance humming along--key to a performance where the play's, and the tenor's, the thing. And a fine end to a good season at the Metropolitan Opera.
Additional performances of CYRANO on May 10 and 13. Curtain times vary: complete schedule here. Running time: 2 hours and 53 minutes, one intermission.
Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.
Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of CYRANO are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.