Domingo returns as Cyrano De Bergerac

In the program notes for San Francisco Opera's current run of Cyrano De Bergerac, Placido Domingo says after hearing him perform it at the Met, SFO's David Gockley asked him to do it here. I'm just curious if this is really true, because they way I originally heard it, Gockley asked Domingo what he wanted to do (the inference of course is Domingo could sing whatever he wanted if he came back to SF) and Domingo responded with Cyrano. It doesn't really matter in a way, except other roles Domingo has been singing recently are more interesting (at least that's what I thought before this afternoon) and for his first engagement with the house since 1994, I for one would have rather seen him in Simon Bocanegra or even Iphigenie et Tauride even though SFO has produced both operas in recent seasons.

Fortunately, I've already seen Domingo twice this year so his long-awaited return wasn't that big a deal to me- especially in an opera no one really seems to have anything great to say about. I was even tempted to skip it, but now I'm glad I didn't. Besides I thought, it is Domingo after all, and if I skipped it I would never be taken as a serious opera fan ever again. People would say "What? Domingo was performing seven times just seven blocks from where you live and you didn't go hear him even once? Loser." I just couldn't bear the shame.
I now understand why Domingo likes this role. It doesn't fit him like a glove in the way Pablo Neruda in Il Postino does, and it doesn't allow him the opportunity to blow you away like he can as Siegmund in Die Walkure, but Cyrano lets Domingo do some serious acting and singing onstage and the results are very impressive. Still, I'm glad this isn't my first Domingo experience because while Franco Alfano's take on Edmond Rostand's play has two great scenes, it's not really something most would argue has been unjustly underperformed in the last 70 years and should be resurrected, like Zemlinski's Der Zwerg, to name one example.
 The production is from Theatre du Chatelet, which is good because it looks better than anything we've seen onstage at the War Memorial so far this season. In fact, the sets are wonderful, especially the bakery in Act II. The director and stage designer of this beauty is Petrika Ionesco, and when SFO has the money again to start mounting new productions of its own, they should definitely hire this obviously talented individual, or at least bring over more of her work. The costumes are of the same quality- Domingo looks quite the swashbuckler and everything you see onstage works in perfect harmony. The conducting of Patrick Fournillier was supportive and the orchestra sounded lush at key moments and never overpowered the singers, though my unfamiliarity with the score leaves me unable to say much on that count. There were moments where it felt a little underpowered, but from what I've read that's Alfano keeping the music well behind the singers.
This is as much an acting as it is a singing star turn for Domingo and he makes the most of it. The balcony scene, where Cyrano takes Roxane (the gorgeous, glorious Ainhoa Arteta) in his arms from behind, still maintaining she is being serenaded by Christian, was as beautiful to watch as it was to hear. The other magnificent moment on both counts is the final scene, where Cyrano comes to see her one last time before dying. Domingo is incredibly real in these moments- and while this is consistent throughout, it is the acting and the quality of the singing in these two scenes which will stay in one's memory long after the music has faded away.
Roxane is an underdeveloped character in that we never really understand why everyone wants her, especially someone with Cyrano's obvious depth of emotion. Still, Arteta makes the most of it, and because she's so good-looking, it would be easy to assume she's desired simply because of her beauty, but I didn't catch that as being the reason behind. But if the part were played by someone who didn't resemble an older, prettier Cameron Diaz, the whole thing may have made no sense whatsoever. Thankfully, Arteta's voice is as gorgeous as her face and this was easily the best singing I've heard from a woman on the stage this season (of course that will likely change next week when Mattila comes to town). Thiago Arancam is another very-attractive singer, and as Christian it's easy to understand the shallow Roxane falling for this hunk even before she knows a thing about him. Arancam is a fine singer, but he didn't really stand out on his own. You may think it's impossible for a tenor to do that when Domingo's onstage, but Charles Castronovo managed to pull it off in Il Postino. In all fairness, the latter presents a much better opportunity to do so, but still.

Stephen Powell's De Guiche was well-sung and suitably sleazy, but he was done a grave disservice by the make-up crew, who made him look like the Cowardly Lion with that ridiculous moustache and hair. Another singer who such lodge a complaint against the same folks is Lester Lynch, who was terrific in Porgy and Bess and would have been really impressive here as well if he didn't look like James Brown circa 1978. Timothy Mix turns in another impressive performance after last summer's Fanciulla. Current Adler fellows Austin Kness, Maya Lahyani and Leah Crocetto all stood out in their smaller roles, especially Lahyani, whose clear, rich voice is already a thing of wonder. I know next year we get Kate Aldrich as Carmen, but someone please- please cast Lahyani in that part?

There are two performances remaining. There are a few tickets available for each, and of course there is always standing room available the day of the show. If you don't travel out of town to see opera, you really shouldn't miss what may turn out to be Domingo's local swan-song.
All photos by Cory Weaver.