[Met Performance] CID:54635
World Premiere
Cyrano {1} World Premiere ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/27/1913.

(Debut: Maurice Sapio
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 27, 1913

World Premiere


CYRANO {1}
W. Damrosch-W. J. Henderson

Cyrano de Bergerac......Pasquale Amato
Roxane..................Frances Alda
Christian...............Riccardo Martin
Ragueneau...............Albert Reiss
Lise....................Vera Curtis
Duenna..................Marie Mattfeld
De Guiche...............Putnam Griswold
Le Bret.................William Hinshaw
Flower Girl.............Louise Cox
Mother Superior.........Florence Mulford
Montfleury..............Lambert Murphy
Cadet...................Lambert Murphy
Monk....................Antonio Pini-Corsi
Musketeer...............Basil Ruysdael
Musketeer...............Marcel Reiner
Cavalier................Austin Hughes
Cavalier................Paolo Ananian
Cavalier................Louis Kreidler
Cavalier................Maurice Sapio [Debut]

Conductor...............Alfred Hertz

Director................Jules Speck
Set designer............Antonio Rovescalli
Costume designer........Maison Muelle

Cyrano received six performances in one season.

Review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times

'CYRANO' APPLAUDED AT ITS PREMIERE

Walter Damrosch and Wm. J. Henderson's Opera, Based on Rostand's Play, Finely Sung

AN EXCELLENT LIBRETTO

Set to Music Now Tuneful and Brilliant, Now Sluggish-A Carefully Prepared Production

For the third time the management of the Metropolitan Opera House has shown its desire to encourage American art by the production of an Ameican opera in English. 'Cyrano" was performed there for the first time last evening , an opera whose music was composed by Walter Damrosch to a libretto arranged from Rostand's drama "Cyrano de Bergerac" by William J. Henderson. Both the collaborators are well known in New York, where Mr. Damrosch has for more than a quarter of a century had prominence as an orchestral and operatic conductor, and Mr. Henderson for an equal period as a musical critic.

The opera was heard by a large first-night audience with friendly interest and sympathy, and with a first-night enthusiasm. It apparently made a favorable impression. To demonstrate the merits of the case from the factitious influence of the occasion is not always easy on a first night, but it seemed clear that apart from these ruling influences "Cyrano" made and deserved considerably more that the "success d'estime" that was to be expected of it. Its real place and its final value will be determined by the trial it will undergo as a piece in the repertory. In the meantime there remains to chronicle an achievement in many ways admirable, one reflecting much credit upon native art. There was applause after the first act, and more after the second, when all the chief singers were repeatedly called before the curtain, and then Mr. Damrosch, and finally Mr. Hertz. After the third act these and Mr. Gatti-Cazazza and Mr. Henderson appeared and were warmly greeted.

After the third act Mr. Damrosch made a little speech thanking the audience for its attention and approval, remarking hat there was to be a fourth act, which would be short, the most essential part and the rest of the opera, and hoping that the audience would remain till the end, when, if he were again called for, he would again address them.

The management showed the sincerity of its purpose toward the new opera, as toward the other American opera it has produced by the care and pains expended upon the production. It was prepared with thoroughness; an excellent cast was allotted to it; a handsome, appropriate, and artistic stage setting had been made; the details of the presentation were well and carefully rehearsed . The work was, in a word, set forth in a fashion to give it its full value and to sustain the standards of the house. The company of the Metropolitan Opera House now contains enough American and English-speaking singers of high rank to perform such a work competently in the language in which it was written, and the showing they made in "Cyrano" was highly creditable.

Edmond Rostand's brilliant play profoundly moved and delighted the theatrical public when it was first produced a score of years ago. New York saw many performances of it in English with Richard Mansfield which were first given here in 1898, and repeated in subsequent seasons, and in French, by Coquelin in 1900. It was then recognized as one of the finest of modern plays, on account of the splendid variety and aptness of its imagery, its triumphant blend of romance and humor, of the old and new breathing the breath of a new and potent genius into ancient ideals of glory and honor and self-sacrifice. These qualities offered an immediate invitation to the lyric dramatist, ever watchful for subjects for musical treatment; but the play also gave a warning to those who would play it too rashly for this purpose. It is so opulent in detail and in incident. It has so many ramifications and contains so many diverse subtleties of intellectual and emotional content that it must be severely stripped to make an opera. The lyric dramatist must deal with a director and more concentrated series of events and with a broader emotional plan than the playwright. And it was unquestionably a venturesome undertaking to set "Cyrano de Bergerac" as an opera, from the very fact that the original was so well known and so universally admired. Expectation must necessarily be keyed to a high pitch and the achievement to rise to the level of the subject, must itself be on a high plane.

Mr. Henderson's task was to reduce the luxuriant flowering of Rostand's imagination to the barer stem of an operatic libretto. This he has done with ability, with a full appreciation of what the necessities of the case demanded, with ample technical knowledge of what can and cannot be utilized in an operatic setting. He has shown in his libretto not only an unmistakable flair for the operatic stage, but also accomplished literary skill. For it is an admirable production in both structure and versification. Its movement is rapid and consistent; it carried on the spirit of the play, and develops its essential motive, bereft though it must be of much that contributes to the charm of the original drama. It is couched in good and picturesque English; its versification fluent and apt. It has passages that approach true poetic beauty, and it is free from the ineptitudes and commonplaces that disfigure many operatic librettos, accepted ever since the beginning of opera with resignation by the intelligent as an unavoidable evil. The text offers none of the crass absurdities that strike the English-speaking listener as incongruous and injurious when set to music and that bring him suddenly and sharply down to earth when he can least expect and tolerate it. This text, furthermore, is not only excellent as a piece of English; it is eminently practicable in being singable and adapted in almost every respect to the exigencies of singers-a merit that not every test for music, though good from a literary point of view, possesses in so full a measure as Mr. Henderson's realization of writing a "music drama"; his work is an opera, and he wishes it to be so regarded. An opera, that is, in the modern sense necessarily-for an opera in the old-fashioned acceptance of the word is no longer possible. And Mr. Damrosch is not alone in writing "opera" in these days. He has not gone "back" of Wagner, as he has suggested, but has written in a well recognizable post-Wagnerian style. The characters sing largely in a more or less melodious arioso, that frequently broadens out into definitely shaped airs. There are numerous ensembles, trios, quartets, choruses. The orchestra has, of course, an important part, almost continuously melodic, but by no means monopolizing the melodic interest. He has given much of this interest to his singers. There are a number of "leading motives" or representative themes on which considerable portions of the musical fabric are used. They are generally attached to the characters of the drama and are easily recognizable. Most outstanding of all is the one denoting Cyrano's nose, a scale passage in "whole tone" intervals; and as this is the only one in the opera in which this latter-day formula appears, it is as plain as the prominent organ on Cyrano's face. Themes allotted to different phases of Roxanne's character have charm and appropriateness.

Mr. Damrosch's use of these motives is ingenious but by no means recondite. The treatment is free, and the orchestral part is far from being a mosaic of such themes. There are few elaborate combinations of them into the modern sort of polyphonic fabric upon which many composers wreak their ingenuity. Mr. Damrosch has shown the judgment and skill in writing for the instrument that was to be expected from one who has spent his life in conducting orchestral performances. He knows the orchestra and its components, knows the effects and how to obtain them. His score is commendable for its coloring, its richness and for the sure touch with which he has emphasized and elucidated passages now emotional, now gay, now picturesque, now tragic.

The music of "Cyrano" is undoubtedly composed with skill, with verve, and in many parts with spontaneity. It cannot be called music of inspiration, of originality, or, in the highest sense, of power. Undoubtedly there is often a feeling of reminiscence; and yet the reminiscence-hunter would often, though not always, have difficulty in putting his finger on the precise origin of this or that passage. There are transitory reminders that Mr. Damrosch has a large familiarity with the whole body of modern music. There is, especially in the earlier and livelier scenes, a frequent suggestion of "Die Meistersinger" in the music' and there are from time to time suggestions of other Wagnerian works, of the later Verdi, and even lesser men, but more generally in spirit than in actual forms. There are, it may also be said, certain traits of harmony and modulation so frequently repeated that they become mannerisms and verge on monotony; and this is especially true of the graver portions of the music in the first two acts.

Mr. Damrosch has been successful in giving characterization, through music, to his chief personages-their nature, their doings, and the development of their emotions. Cyrano and Roxanne are admirably thus expressed in the music, and this is no small achievement of the lyric dramatist. He has been successful in giving musical heightening to the scenes in the first two acts, to the interrupted drama in the hall of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the duel scene, the meeting of Cyrano with Roxanne, and then in the second act to the lively gathering of the pastry cooks and the boisterous Gascony cadets, the writing of Cyrano's letter, the encounter of Christian with Cyrano. In the first act the music for the mimic play in the archaic French style is cleverly made, both in its melodic form and its instrumental effect. The music of the "Ballad of the Duel," does not, perhaps, quite rise to the importance of the situation, of the striking moments in the drama; but it is rhythmically seizing, however, to present the real point of the affair. Cyrano sings, "I touch as I end the refrain," meaning thereby to vaunt his skill in being able to "touch" not as his opponent may give him opportunity, but at the precise moment when he himself may choose-and he "touches" before he ends the refrain.

The interview between Cyrano and Christian in the second act has excellent qualities; but a quicker movement in the flow of the declamation would have bettered its effect. Against this scene and against much of the last two acts the reproach may lie that they move too sluggishly and increasingly so to the end; that is to say, the declamation is too much retarded by the music, and especially too much interrupted by the orchestral passages which break in upon the speech of the characters. Mr. Damrosch has lingered too long over his expression, where a quicker movement is easily possible. He fills out the melodic line too much with the orchestra, while the singer waits to complete his phrase or for opportunity to begin a new one. Nor has he discriminated enough at times between passages that are either comic in their motive or simply connective, and hence to be quickly pushed forward or even made voluble, and those of emotional import. Much of the third and fourth acts should thus be made more expeditious, leaving the more significant moments of deep emotion or tragic intensity for treatment of another sort. The scene of Cyrano's pretended madness is a case in point. The duet between Roxanne and Christian hangs heavy and the comic element which belongs to it suffers thereby.

The opera has evidently been much reduced from its original length as it appears in the published score, by cutting freely administered. And this, while in one way an absolute necessity-for the opera as given last night was still long and lost its effect upon the audience thereby-is, in another way, a pity. Four episodes have been cut out that are valuable, if not necessary as an elucidation of the action, and that might have been saved if the whole had moved fast enough to allow them to be saved. This has happened particularly in the third act, as in the scene between Roxanne and Christian, before he receives the help of Cyrano in his love-making.

The performance was in almost all respects excellent. Mr. Amato won new laurels as Cyrano, a part in which he had to contend with some cherished memories. His impersonation denoted with rare intelligence, delicacy, and subtlety the spirit of the imperious, domineering swashbuckler, the romantic lover, the tender and self-sacrificing friend. His poses, gestures, facial play, and bodily carriage were admirably co-ordinated in their vivid expression and he sang the music well. Miss Alda gave an excellent representation of Roxanne-one that should be set down as one of her best achievements not only in acting, but as well in singing. As Christian Mr. Martin had a part none too grateful, for Christian cuts no enviable figure in the drama, but he presented it according to its nature. Messers Reiss as Ragueneau, Griswold as De Guiche, and Hinshaw as Le Bret made valuable contributions to the performance.

This could not, as a whole, have been of so much comfort to the advocates of opera in English as Prof. Parker's "Mona" given last season, for considerably less of the text was intelligible to the listener, and large portions of it might as well have been in an unknown tongue. Nor was this so much due to faulty diction as to the relation of the orchestral part to the vocal. Mr. Amato was perceived to sing with little accent, when he was understood. Mr. Griswold was, on the whole, the clearest in his enunciation.

The orchestra played well, with spirit and smoothness, under Mr. Hertz, who worked with zeal and energy to bring about success. The scene representing the halls of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the interior of Ragueneau's cook shop, the street in Paris before Roxanne's house, the bivouac before Arras, and the convent were all excellent specimens of stage appropriate setting. The costumes of the period give a fine opportunity for handsome colors and effective groupings, and full advantage was taken of it.


Costume designs for Cyrano by Betant or Betaut (?)
Production photos of Cyrano by White Studio



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