Alfano: Cyrano de Bergerac

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COMPOSERS: Alfano
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Cyrano de Bergerac
PERFORMER: Roman Sadnik, Manuela Uhl, Paul McNamara; Kiel Opera Chorus, Kiel PO/Markus Frank
CATALOGUE NO: 999 909-2
Doomed to be remembered as ‘the composer who completed Puccini’s Turandot’, Franco Alfano was a fascinating figure of early 20th-century Italian opera. Even more unfortunately for him, that familiar Turandot ending was Toscanini’s truncated version of Alfano, but one can get a better idea of his strong, attractive style from such pieces as Risurrezione (based on Tolstoy) and Sakùntala. Cyrano de Bergerac represents his later, somewhat sparer style, as befits the story of the 17th-century poet-soldier whose disfiguring nose makes him unattractive to women, and whose beautiful cousin Roxanne returns his love only when he is dying.

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Bad timing assisted in the work’s neglect. It was premiered in Rome in 1936, by which time the composer had cosied up to Mussolini. Stagings lasted until a notable revival in Rome in 1954 with the great Ramon Vinay in the title role. But as these recordings reveal, occasional interest has continued; both performances revert to the original French libretto by Henri Cain, not the Italian translation used at the premiere.

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The enterprising Kiel Opera enjoyed success with the piece last year, and the CPO recording shows why: Markus Frank’s conducting captures both the savvy eclecticism of the music and Alfano’s individuality, Roman Sadnik is a rich-toned Cyrano, Manuela Uhl a gleaming Roxanne and Paul McNamara a strong Christian. Maurizio Arena’s 1975 RAI recording (issued here without libretto) comes across less vividly, and Olivia Stapp has a harder edge as Roxanne, but with William Johns in the title role and Ezio di Cesare as Christian you still get a good idea of the piece. John Allison