Cyrano: You "Nose" It's Good Opera

When I think of opera, I think of things like little binoculars, corpulent singers and wealthy male and female audience members wearing matching purple and chartreuse suits and gowns. While I did witness all of these things last night at the premier of Cyrano at The Ziff Ballet and Opera House, I also encountered something unexpected: "Whoo hoo"-ing from the audience.

Was this intemperate reaction a response to the fact that Cyrano is a modern opera, written by David DiChiera and first performed in 2007? Or is it because it was just friggin' "whoo"-worthy? Both.

If you remember Steve Martin's 1987 movie Roxanne, then you already have a pretty good understanding of Cyrano's plot. Both the movie and the opera are based on the play Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, about a gifted swordsman and poet who possesses but one terrible handicap: his gargantuan schnoz. 


Cyrano

(played by Marian Pop) falls in love with his cousin, Roxane (Leah

Partridge), and is about to finally tell her so when the pretty blonde

intellectual reveals to Cyrano that she's bonkers for Baron Christian

Neuvillette (Sebastian Gueze), a new cadet in Cyrano's company. Cyrano

of course is crushed by this news, but the lovelorn altruist (or is

he??) agrees nonetheless to protect his cousin's object of desire during

combat. 


When Cyrano and Christian first meet,

the handsome young simpleton takes some pretty harsh jabs at Cyrano's

disproportionate member (his nose, I mean, people). The other cadets,

knowing that insulting Cyrano is usually equivalent to a death wish, are

shocked when Cyrano ignores the remarks.

Cyrano goes so far as to take

the young buck aside and tell him about Roxane's affection for him.

Christian's nuts for Roxane too, but he's completely panicked because he

knows he's too much of a dunce to woo her with his witless, bumbling

poetry.

So Cyrano writes Roxane a love letter pretending to be

Christian. She nearly dies from romantic shock. The success of the

charade leaves no alternative but to extend it, and so the story

continues.


Pop's portrayal of the two dueling

sides of Cyrano -- one self-assured as a gifted poet and soldier, the

other self-loathing thanks to his humongoloid nose -- is captivating.

Physically, the actor appears like a caricature of a man, not just in

his huge, glued-on sniffer, but also in his Jerry Curl-style, long wavy

hair and bottom-heavy, loping gait (I hope that's part of the role...).

Thanks to Pop's capable facial expressions and gestures, Cyrano came

through as strong and charismatic among men, but hopelessly awkward and

painfully timid in love. (Spoiler alert!) In the final scene, when Pop

stabs drunkenly through his fatal concussion at his shadowy lifelong

enemies, all the while singing in his rich, commanding baritone voice, I

seriously got goosebumps. I was overwhelmed by the thought of an entire

life lived in debilitating fear, and concurrently bewitched by the

performer's incredible voice and the gorgeous sounds of the orchestra.


Partridge,

for whom DiChiera actually wrote the role of Roxane, has a full-bodied,

far-reaching soprano voice that is truly un-believe-able. She also

managed to pull off her coquettish, flirtatious role so seamlessly that

it had me saying, "God, what a bitch! Is she the last woman on earth?

Why do all these men like her?" even while my jaw dropped in awe of her

arias. 


Finally, I've got to applaud Gueze. His

tenor voice is light and sharp, my favorite of the show, and he looked

like a bright-eyed, long-haired Heath Ledger on stage. As the plot

progressed, I found myself feeling utterly miserable for his character

as well --- a naive man-child, slowly becoming more and more aware of

his complete impotence as Cyrano's pinch-hitting gives way to a complete

usurpation of his romance with Roxane. 


The

orchestra had a lot of room to shine throughout this production, during

the vocalists' performances and in instrumentals while the curtain was

down. The score is lilting and wonderful to listen to from behind closed

eyes.

 
Both musically beautiful and visually

stunning, the show earned the five-minute standing ovation it received

at the conclusion of the performance. And all the "Whoo-hoos" the crowd

could muster. 


Performances at the Ziff

Ballet and Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, are on select days

from April 29th through May 7th. Go to the Florida Grand Opera website

or call 800-741-1010.



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