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NBD0005 - ALFANO, F.: Cyrano de Bergerac (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2007) (Blu-ray, HD)
Franco Alfano (1875–1954)
Opera in four acts
Cyrano - Plácido Domingo
The Italian composer Franco Alfano was born in Posillipo, near Naples, in 1875, into a family of silver engravers. His mother was French, which may help to explain Alfano’s innate cosmopolitanism. He studied piano privately with Alessandro Longo, and harmony and composition with Camillo de Nardis and Paolo Serrao at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella in Naples. In order to improve his grasp of orchestration in 1895 he settled in Leipzig, where he was a pupil of Salomon Jadassohn and also met Grieg. He completed his first, and still unpublished opera, Miranda, in 1896. On returning to Italy his fellow-composer Giordano sought to interest the publishing firm of Sonzogno on his behalf, but without success. With the help of the librettist Illica, Alfano then secured a contract with the rival company, Ricordi, to compose the opera La fonte di Enschir. Plans to perform this opera in Milan came to nothing, Ricordi perhaps being unwilling to risk its reputation with a then unknown composer. The opera was eventually first performed in Breslau in 1898, in German and to great success, although the composer declined a subsequent offer from the publisher Bock to compose another opera in German.
Instead Alfano tried his luck in Paris where he composed in quick succession two ballet scores for the Folies Bergère, Napoli and Lorenza, both given in 1901. The following year he saw a dramatization of Tolstoy’s novel of redemption, Resurrection, at the Odéon theatre in Paris, and decided to write an opera based on it. He began work on the score in 1903, writing the first two acts in Paris, the third in Berlin, part of the fourth in Moscow, and the fifth in Posillipo. The score was accepted by Ricordi and the first performance took place in Turin in November 1904. Risurrezione was written in the style of Puccini and proved to be very successful, reaching its thousandth performance by 1951. Later operas did not achieve the same level of success: they included Il principe Zilah (1909); the unfinished I cavalieri e la bella of 1910; and L’ombra di Don Giovanni, heavily influenced by Richard Strauss and Debussy, which was given at La Scala, Milan, in 1914.
After moving in 1914 to San Remo, where he maintained a summer residence for the rest of his life, Alfano taught composition at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna from 1916, assuming its directorship in 1918. 1921 saw the first performance of Sakùntala, a lavish work that compositionally had moved a long way from the style of Risurrezione. Alfano was appointed director of the Liceo Musicale in Turin in 1923, and remained there until 1939. Following the death of Puccini in 1924, he was approached by Ricordi to complete the dead composer’s final work, the opera Turandot. Contracts were signed in the summer of 1925 and the completion was ready by the end of January 1926. Toscanini conducted the première of Turandot at La Scala in April 1926 but Alfano’s re-composition was (and continues to be) very heavily cut, partly because the demands made upon the two leading singers are extreme.
After writing several orchestral works Alfano returned to opera with two short comic operas, Madonna Imperia (1927), first performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 1928, and L’ultimo Lord (1928), first performed in Naples in 1931. The ballet score Vesuvio appeared in 1933. Between 1933 and 1935 he was pre-occupied with the composition of Cyrano de Bergerac, which he offered first to the Opéra-Comique in Paris, although the world première took place in Rome in January 1936 under the baton of Tullio Serafin, with the Paris première following in May 1936. During the Second World War Cyrano was given in Germany during 1942, at Leipzig and Erfurt, while the revision of L’ombra di Don Giovanni was given as Don Juan de Manara in Florence in 1941. Alfano served as intendant of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo between 1940 and 1942, and then was professor of opera studies at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome for a short while, during which time he completed the operas Eliane (1943) and Il dottor Antonio. Between 1947 and 1950 he was principal of the Liceo Musicale in Pesaro, where he rewrote Sakùntala, after the original score had been destroyed in war-time bombing of the Ricordi archives in Milan. Cyrano finally reached La Scala in 1954 in a fine production featuring Ramon Vinay and conducted by Antonino Votto, to be followed by the composer’s own death in October of the same year.
Edmond Rostand’s historically based romantic drama Cyrano de Bergerac, dating from 1897, had originally been written as a vehicle for the celebrated French actor Coquelin. Alfano had considered it as a suitable subject for an opera for a long time, and his initial interest may well have been stimulated by the librettist Henri Cain, who had written several libretti for Massenet and had prepared operatic libretti based on both Cyrano and another play by Rostand, La Princesse Lointaine. While Alfano was attending performances of Risurrezione in Monte Carlo in 1925 with Mary Garden in the leading rôle, the subject came up again, with Garden offering to pay the high cost of securing the work’s rights. On this occasion Alfano gracefully declined her assistance. During 1933 Cain continued to seek the composer’s interest, with the cost of the rights now reduced. After some vacillation Alfano assured the Viennese publisher Kalmus that he would complete an opera based on Rostand’s play within two years. The first act was composed between October 1933 and the spring of 1934, the second by the end of 1934, the third by May 1935, and the major part of the fourth act by July 1935, Alfano having deciding to condense Rostand’s second and third acts into his second act, to create a four-act opera. After seeing the tenor José Luccioni in Carmen at the Opéra-Comique, Alfano was keen to secure him to take the title rôle, as he could sing in both Italian and French, and he was duly signed for both of the first performances in Rome and Paris during 1936.
Cain’s adaptation of Rostand’s play tightened it up considerably. Minor characters are eliminated, and the action is made more concentrated, while all the major set pieces of the original, such as Cyrano’s wonderful balcony scene with Roxane, are retained. Alfano’s music inhabits a world of great refinement and subtlety. He himself felt that his score was ‘more agile and light’ than previous works. In the words of the biographer of fellow-composers Zandonai and Leoncavallo, Konrad Dryden, ‘the work is haunted by a crystalline nocturnal atmosphere that is both fragile, bittersweet and melancholic in its dreamlike subtlety’. Dryden also points out the similarity between Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Zemlinsky’s slightly earlier opera, Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), first performed in 1922: ‘the opera [Cyrano de Bergerac] transcends superficial judgements based on appearance and unlocks the poetry of a human soul caught in an unappealing exterior’.
— David Patmore
1. Opening titles
2. The scene is the hall of the Hotel de Bourgogne, which is set for a theatrical performance featuring Montfleury. Le Bret, Ragueneau, Christian and Lignière look forward to the appearance of Roxane. The chorus asks them to be quiet. Suddenly Cyrano de Bergerac is heard, insulting Montfleury.
3. Cyrano is chided by De Valvert, Roxane’s fiancé, for insulting Montfleury, and when De Valvert insults Cyrano on the subject of his nose, Cyrano promises to improvise a poem while dueling with him. This he does in virtuoso fashion, killing his opponent at the climax.
4. Le Bret takes Cyrano to task for creating so much confusion. Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane, whose duenna asks Cyrano if her mistress may see him in secret. He is beside himself with joy and excitement.
5. When Lignière tells Cyrano that he is to be ambushed by a hundred of De Guiche’s men because of a disrespectful song that he wrote about De Guiche, Cyrano makes light of his predicament and promises him that he will sleep at his (Cyrano’s) home that night. As they prepare for battle, Cyrano sings of his love for the city of Paris.
Act II: Part 1
6. The setting is the shop of Ragueneau, a baker and pastry maker. It is overflowing with food and flowers. Ragueneau is one of several amateur poets who meet every morning at his shop. Cyrano enters, impatient for his meeting with Roxane. He asks to be left alone when she arrives, but Ragueneau protests about his forthcoming poet’s meeting. The chorus sings of Cyrano’s triumph of the previous night, putting to rout the men of De Guiche, while Cyrano himself becomes progressively more anxious at the thought of meeting Roxane.
7. Cyrano is left alone as Roxane enters. She thanks him for silencing De Guiche and his men and, as cousins, they reminisce about their childhood in Bergerac. She confesses to him that she is in love, but he realises that it is not he whom she loves when she confesses that she and her new lover have not yet spoken together. She asks Cyrano to protect her lover, who is Christian and who is to join Cyrano’s regiment, which he agrees to do. She departs, asking Cyrano to tell Christian to write to her.
8. Ragueneau and his colleagues enter and congratulate Cyrano on his triumph of the previous night. De Guiche then appears and asks Cyrano to join him as a soldier. Cyrano refuses, saying that he prefers to be free, and De Guiche leaves in a huff.
9. Carbon asks Cyrano to tell him about the recent fight, and then starts to make fun of Christian. As Cyrano starts to tell of his exploits, Christian starts to poke fun at his nose. Cyrano becomes more and more agitated and asks everyone to depart, leaving just him and Christian together.
10. Cyrano explains to Christian that Roxane is in love with him. Christian is overwhelmed and apologises to Cyrano for his jibes about his nose. Cyrano offers to provide Christian with the eloquence that can win Roxane. They agree that with Christian’s fine appearance and Cyrano’s way with words, they will create a lover worthy of Roxane.
Act II: Part 2
11. The scene is a small square in which is located Roxane’s house, which has a balcony over the front door. Ragueneau and Roxane’s Duenna are chatting.
12. The Duenna tells Roxane that the poets are ready to read their poems on love to her. De Guiche enters and tells Roxane that he is to leave for battle at Arras shortly. Concerned that this may prove dangerous for Christian, Roxane tricks De Guiche into deciding to hold back his Gascon regiment by suggesting that nothing would upset Cyrano more than to be denied the chance to fight. De Guiche falls for her ruse and agrees not to take the Gascons into battle immediately, while pleading his love for her. After he has gone, Cyrano enters and Roxane asks him to tell Christian to wait for her, and she then will ask him to improvise a poem for her. Christian enters and tells Cyrano that he is tired of subterfuge and would like to speak to Roxane for himself.
13. Roxane appears on the balcony but Christian is unable to say much apart from the fact that he loves her. Taking this to mean that he does not really love her, she slams the door in Christian’s face. Cyrano enters and Christian asks for his help. Cyrano tells Christian to face Roxane’s balcony while he himself hides under it. Initially Christian is prompted to speak by Cyrano but this does not work very well.
14. Roxane comments that Christian’s words are hesitant tonight, whereupon Cyrano launches directly into an intoxicating and extended declaration of love for Roxane which completely bewitches her. She convinces herself that she loves Christian, while Cyrano is stunned by being able to declare himself at last.
15. Both Roxane and Cyrano are completely overwhelmed. Christian climbs up the balcony and embraces Roxane while Cyrano below suffers in silence.
16. The setting is a battlefield outside Arras, which is under siege. The Gascons, including Christian, are asleep on the ground. Cyrano enters – he has been crossing enemy lines each day to deliver love letters to Roxane. The Gascons sing of their homesickness, and Cyrano comments that it is more noble to cry from homesickness than from hunger.
17. De Guiche enters; Cyrano comments on his lack of courage but De Guiche counters with the fact that he is still alive. They then learn that a new attack is imminent.
18. Christian, realising the seriousness of the situation, confesses to Cyrano that he wishes he could write one last letter to Roxane. Cyrano tells him that he has already written one such letter and gives it to Christian who notices that it is stained with a tear. Cyrano confesses to him that he has been crossing the enemy lines twice a day with love letters for Roxane.
19. A carriage arrives, carrying Roxane. She tells how she charmed the enemy soldiers by saying that she was visiting her lover. She gives the hungry troops food. Christian asks her why she has come, and she tells him it is because of his beautiful letters.
20. She goes on to tell him that as she read and reread these letters she came to love him for his soul as much for his appearance, and that she would love him still even if he were to become ugly.
21. Christian realises that it is Cyrano that Roxane truly loves and tells Cyrano this. Christian urges Cyrano to declare himself to Roxane but he cannot, because of his face. When Cyrano himself tests Roxane about what she has said to Christian and she confirms her feelings, he is about to tell her that it was he, not Christian, who wrote the letters, when Christian is brought in dead, the first casualty of the attack. Roxane sees that the dead Christian is holding a letter for her, which Cyrano also sees is in fact his letter. Roxane throws herself over Christian’s dead body, while Cyrano charges into battle.
22. It is fifteen years later. The setting is the garden of the convent of the Sisters of the Cross in Paris. It is autumn. De Guiche enters with Roxane, who has been a member of the convent since the Arras campaign. Le Bret enters and reports that Cyrano’s public letters are making him enemies. De Guiche expresses admiration for Cyrano and then leaves. Ragueneau enters hurriedly and pulls Le Bret away.
23. Roxane admires the last days of September. Cyrano then enters, pale and with his hat pulled down. He apologizes for being late for his regular visit to Roxane for the first time in fourteen years. He asks her to pray for him that evening.
24. Cyrano admires the falling leaves. Roxane asks for her weekly news, and Cyrano, struggling with pain, starts to report, when he faints. He revives and tells Roxane that the cause is a wound which he sustained at Arras, and that the pain will pass.
25. Roxane tells him that they each have a wound and shows him what she takes to be Christian’s final letter. Cyrano asks to read it, which he does with mounting fervour.
26. Roxane realises at last that it was Cyrano who was talking to her when she was on the balcony of her house many years ago, and that it was he who wrote the letters to her. Cyrano denies this. When Roxane asks him why he has denied it for so long, he announces to her his own death. Ragueneau tells her that he has been struck from behind by an assassin. Roxane declares her love for Cyrano. He tries to stand, to meet death with his sword. As the nuns begin to pray for Cyrano, he declares that the one thing that he will take with him into death will be his honour.
27. Curtain calls and end titles.
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