Beautiful ‘Cyrano’ at MOT is perfect tribute to retiring DiChiera
DETROIT, Mich. – Dr. David DiChiera, the impresario who founded Michigan Opera Theatre 46 years ago, is retiring at the end of the season to the honorary title of Artistic Director Emeritus. A gala concert in his honor is being hosted next Friday, May 19, in recognition of his innumerable contributions to the performing arts community at large, the city of Detroit, and the diverse array of artists whom he has championed. But last night (Saturday, May 13) no greater tribute could be paid than the spectacular, triumphant opening-night performance of DiChiera’s own composition, the musically soaring, heart-rending opera, Cyrano.
The show made its world-debut at the Detroit Opera House back in 2007, a labor of love between DiChiera and his friend, director and librettist Bernard Uzan. Mr. Uzan returns to direct this lavish production and also plays the comedic speaking role of Montfleury, whom Cyrano chases off the stage in the first scene. MOT favorite Steven Mercurio takes the podium, conducting his revised orchestration of DiChiera’s magnum opus and marking his 20th MOT production.
Marian Pop, with his brilliant baritone and charismatic stage presence, was hand-picked by DiChiera to create the role of Cyrano ten years ago, and his return to the role is most gratifying. He owns the role. Indeed, the physicality of the acting performance, with its swashbuckling gallantry and sword play, parallels the dynamic vocal qualities required for the part. Pop delivers with both power and nuance, giving vent to rage and yearning, evoking the comedic wit and tragic poetry encompassed in this heroic role.
The opera is based on the classic play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, and Uzan’s libretto does justice to the story. It is 1640 and Cyrano is a captain in the Gascon Guards; France is at war with Spain. Cyrano is known throughout Paris as a solider, poet and nobleman, famed for his bravery, intellect, wit, skill as a swordsman, and unfortunately large proboscis. Cyrano is in love with his cousin, the beautiful and intellectual Roxane, but cannot declare his passion because he believes himself too ugly to win more than friendship. Roxane becomes enamored with the gorgeous new cadet in Cyrano’s company, Christian, who is in turn besotted by Roxane. Christian’s love is sincere, but he is too much the country rube to express himself well in front of the discerning Roxane. Cyrano realizes that the two men complete each other – that Christian offers the physical beauty for which Cyrano provides the soul. In an act of selfless love, Cyrano becomes Christian’s coach, helping him woo and win Roxane. When the guards are sent off to war, Roxane begs Cyrano to protect Christian, keep him from harm, and make sure he writes faithfully. This last promise is one Cyrano can willingly keep, and he writes profound, sensitive love letters to her twice a day from the battlefield, all composed on Christian’s behest.
Fans of the Rostand play know how the story turns out, and we won’t spoil it for the rest of you. It is enough to know that the opera offers everything one could hope for – romance, wit, heartbreak, comedy, dramatic fight scenes, and tender expressions of love. The opera, like the play, is a bittersweet reflection on true love, loss, honor and a life lived with panache. Unlike the play, the opera elevates the story with music – magnificent music – to dimensionalize the full emotional spectrum.
There is a huge cast for this opera, and the company pours its heart – and dazzling vocals – into this production. The principals are in top form. In addition to Marian Pop, John Viscardi performs the role of Cyrano on May 21. The young French tenor Sebastien Gueze is an ideal Christian – physically and vocally lovely; he shares the role with Jason Slayden. Harry Greenleaf, in the role of Cyrano’s friend Le Bret, and Kyle Albertson, as the villain De Guiche, are both standouts. Sarah Joy Miller is the gorgeous Roxane, and her expressive, authoritative vocals are up to this challenging role – even when singing against multiple voices, a device DiChiera uses to great effect.
Indeed, the quintet near the end of Act II is remarkable: it begins with the countertenor Capuchin (Randall Scotting) singing against Pop’s velvety baritone. They are joined by tenor Christian, soprano Roxane, and mezzo soprano La Duegne (Deborah Nansteel) and the result is moving – amplifying the inner turmoil, joy and despair each character feels at a pivotal moment in the story.
Likewise, the wonderful MOT chorus, directed by Suzanne Mallare Acton, is given a lot of stage time, and these big production numbers add to the spectacle and splendor of the opera.
The MOT Orchestra also shines. From the prelude that brings up the curtain, to the interlude that brings up Act III, the instrumental music is tuneful in a way that suggests cinematic anthems. We hear the drums of war and bugle signals; we feel the chill of the pre-battle dawn; we anticipate the yearning, inexplicable loss, and spiritual release that lies ahead.
Cyrano is also a banquet for the eyes. Set and Costume Design by John Pascoe is over-the-top fabulous. The 17th Century costumes are as elaborate for the men as for the women – the foppish young dandies wear more lace than the maidens they admire. The towering sets are incredible – with five major scene changes – beautifully lit by Donald Edmund Thomas.
The colossal scale of Cyrano serves to overwhelm the senses in a way that sets us up for the intimate, tender moments in the final scene. Pop and Miller caress the notes of their closing duet, and we realize that DiChiera, in his bounteous musical feast, has left this choice morsel for last. There may have been dry eyes in the house, but ours were too blurry to see.
The opening night standing ovation was immediate and thunderous. And when Bernard Uzan brought the ailing Dr. DiChiera onstage, the audience exploded with appreciation. It is unlikely that another production of Cyrano will enjoy the oversight of both its composer and librettist. See this one while you can.