- Cyrano de Bergerac, and: Marcella
Umberto Giordano (1867–1948) and Franco Alfano (1875–1954) were the two youngest composers of the generation dominated by Giacomo Puccini in Italian opera. While Giordano has maintained a foothold in the standard repertory, Alfano has been remembered solely as the man who had the thankless task of completing Puccini's Turandot, and then having his work severely edited and simplified by Toscanini. The DVDs under review here help to give us a more complete picture of these composers.
Marcella is a relatively early work in Giordano's career (1907), but it had the misfortune to come after both Andrea Chenier and Fedora. It is a simple, bittersweet romance, only about an hour long, which bears a close resemblance to The Student Prince, although it predates Romberg's operetta, and it has none of the histrionics of the earlier or later operas that are more clearly in the verismo style. It is the story of a brief, idyllic romance between a prince and a commoner, which is shattered when he is forced to abandon Marcella and return to the aid of his homeland. Except for a short scene in which the prince learns of the political unrest at home, the score is sweet and melodic, often sounding more like Franz Lehár than the Giordano we know.
This performance comes from the 2007 Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca, which has specialized in reviving operas that have fallen through the repertory cracks. Soprano, Serena Daolio and tenor, Danilo Formaggia have the technique and professionalism to carry the show off, but neither is up to the standards of the top singers today, vocally or dramatically. The other roles have very little to do, but are similarly in capable, if workmanlike, hands. Interest will be primarily in the score itself, which is revealed as an attractive alternative to the standard repertory, and it is recommended as such.
Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Plácido Domingo. It has been staged for him in numerous opera houses around the world, and this production was presented at the Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia," Valencia's new opera house. The score is well crafted, but Alfano did not have Puccini's, or even Giordano's, natural gift for melody. The early scenes of the opera are rather dull, but Alfano hits his stride in time for the balcony scene in which Cyrano woos Roxane for the incompetent Christian, and the result is moving, beautiful, and dramatically effective. The battle scenes and Cyrano's death are equally well handled.
Plácido Domingo has distinguished his career with smart repertory decisions, and this is one of them. The title role suits his voice perfectly, which is in fine shape here, and as the character is an older man, it works well dramatically. He is coupled with Sondra Radvanovksy as Roxane, a role which likewise suits her sometimes overly heavy voice. Here she sings with great sensitivity and beauty. As Christian, the youthful tenor, Arturo Chacón Cruz seems occasionally to be working too hard, perhaps trying to keep up with the burnished, more mature sounds of his co-stars, but his performance does not lower the high standard set by them and the rest of the large cast. The production by Michal Znaniecki is simple and effective, and the orchestra under Patrick Fournillier seems to relish the exquisite, almost Ravel-like, orchestrations. Amazingly, this is the second production of Cyrano de Bergerac to be released on DVD—a production from Montpellier ([Hamburg]: Deutsche Grammophon, 2005. B0004407-09) is generally very fine, but Roberto Alagna's too youthful Cyrano must yield to Domingo's more age-appropriate and sensitive performance.