Curtain call for Cyrano de Bergerac
We take the label "fan" to have derived from the word "fanatic". We have further observed that the happiest most productive people are those who immerse themselves in their passions. Alyce Mott, Founder and Artistic Directof of VHRPL! must be one of the happiest people in New York. She has devoted most of her professional life to championing the works of Victor Herbert, the late 19th c. composer--so well known in his day and becoming more and more renowned since Ms. Mott established the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!
This is their 10th Anniversary Season and we have watched the audience grow from a small group of devotees at the sanctuary of a small church on the Upper
West Side to a packed house in the far more commodious Theater at St. Jean's on the Upper East Side. The new home has a real proscenium stage and orchestra pit and gives these works the setting they deserve.
Last night we saw a work that, like most great works, produces both laughter and tears. It is difficult to imagine that the score to Herbert's Cyrano de Bergerac lay dormant for a century until Dino Anagnost of the Little Orchestra Society of New York joined forces with Ms. Mott for a rebirth of this neglected work. The most fascinating part of the story is that there was no libretto; but our intrepid Ms. Mott rose to the occasion and created one! And that is what we saw and heard last night. This is only the second time the work has been performed.
Mr. Herbert's music is always delightful to the ear, but in this case he outdid himself and one sensed from the overture, replete with waltzes and marches, that we were in the hands of a musical genius. What we didn't expect was the felicitous marriage of music and lyrics--lyrics that rival those of W.S.Gilbert--but American in style. This delightful music was performed by a chamber group of musicians comprising the piano of William Hicks, augmented by violin, cello, string bass, flute, clarinet, and percussion--all brought together by Maestro Michael Thomas.
The work was effectively cast with singers who could act; they succeeded at drawing out the pathos of the story, leaving us with abundant thoughts about not being fooled by the surface of people but rather being open to perceiving their inner beauty.
As the swashbuckling arrogant Cyrano we heard VHRPL! LIVE regular Matthew Wages whose deeply resonant baritone and body language allowed us to see the sensitive insecure soul underneath. He carefully allowed us to see how he lived vicariously through the handsome Christian. There was no need for a fake nose! As his beloved cousin and childhood chum Roxane, we heard the lovely soprano Hannah Holmes who allows herself to be deceived by appearances until the final moment when we weep for her because it is too late and Cyrano is dying.
The role of narrator Comte de Guiche, a "frenemy" and rival to Cyrano we heard Jack Cotterell who inhabited the role with Gallic pomposity. As Roxane's beloved Baron Christian de Nuevillette we heard lyric tenor Ai Ra who created a character of meager verbal skills who can only win Roxanne with the soulful words of the poet Cyrano.
It is always a joy to see the veteran David Seatter as a baker and as the monk who is tricked into marrying Roxanne to Christian instead of to Comte de Guiche. New to the company and most welcome was Jesse Pimpinella as Montfleury. The chorus of cadets was excellent as were the ladies, although the women's chorus did not enunciate as clearly. Of course we acknowledge that lyrics are more difficult to understand in the upper register.
Christine Hall's choreography was terrific, especially for the Musketeers. No one was credited for costuming which was minimal but not missed. The headgear, a few ruffles around the neck, some boots, and some swords were sufficient.
As far as the gorgeous musical numbers, we mostly enjoyed those with harmonizing voices--"Let the Sun of Thine Eyes" for Cyrano, Christian, and Roxanne; "Since I Am Not For Thee" for the same voices with considerable overlapping; and "The Call to Arms" for the entire company, at the end of which we heard the effective lower register of Mr. Wages' voice.
The final number "Those Were the Good Old Times" for Cyrano and Roxane was quite moving with the orchestra syncopated like a faltering heart. Music Director Michael Thomas did his customary excellent job conducting.
We admit that we enjoyed the work more than Alfano's opera, also written based on the same play by Rostand!
© meche kroop