French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostrand introduced us to Cyrano de Bergerac in his 1897 play. Since then, we've seen a lot of incarnations of the big-nosed romantic nobleman in film and theater (Steve Martin's 1987 comedy Roxanne is probably the most famous).
And now, composer David DiChiera is the latest to tackle Cyrano's tale of lost love in his sprawling epic opera, which will be making its South Florida debut for the Florida Grand Opera at the Arsht Center this Saturday.
Cyrano is in love with the beautiful Roxane, but the self-doubt brought
on his big schnoz discourages him from expressing his true feelings to
her. So he agrees to help his handsome but romantically challenged rival
win her heart.
But, as DiChiera tells us, a tale that features romance, lust, poetry, longing, and rapier sword duels like this one was absolutely meant to be told through opera.
"Cyrano is really one of the great love stories in all of literature," DiChiera says. "Because it is such a beautiful and heartrending love story, it felt inspiring for me as a neo-romantic composer to have the opportunity to write music that might enhance the emotions of these characters, giving them greater depth."
DiChiera's Cyrano (with the French libretto by Bernard Uzan) is in three acts and will feature the original Michigan Opera Theatre cast of baritone Marian Pop as Cyrano and soprano Leah Partridge as Roxane. But what is unique about DiChiera's Cyrano is that he specifically composed the opera for Pop and Partridge's voices, something that is hardly, if ever, done in opera.
"I saw the role of Cyrano as a baritone that had a complete range with multiple dimensions to his character," DiChiera explains. "Cyrano is very outgoing and a great swordsman. This needed music with tremendous thrust and power. Yet at the same time, there's an inner agony of a man who is living with a physical deformity and feeling that he can never find love."
"So I wanted a voice that was both powerful, but also was at home in the upper regions of the voice, since the music lives a lot in the upper part of the baritone range. Marian had that, as well as a tremendous amount of personality. I mean, Cyrano is, if nothing else, a tremendous personality. I needed someone that could inhabit that, both physically and musically."
As for the enigmatic beauty that transfixes both Cyrano and his rival, DiChiera needed a performer who not only embodied Roxane's beauty, but could also express that beauty with her voice. He's found such a performer in Ms. Partridge.
"Roxane loves beauty, but she is beautiful. I wanted a soprano that could sing lyrically, but also had a high extension to her voice and could float notes, so that it would be part of the beauty of her character," he says.
Cyrano's story is a beautifully tragic one. And while there are have been many versions of the story told through books and film, nothing can bring deep emotions out of a story like this one quite like the opera.
"I want the audience to feel the emotions of the tragedy of the story," DiChiera says. "How these two people, who could have been together, kind of missed each other through circumstance. It's the same kind of emotion you get from La Boheme. Roxane loses Cyrano just when she realizes he is the man she has loved all along."
Cyrano opens Saturday at the Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami) at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $19 to $129. Call 800-741-1010 or visit fgo.org.