Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi in Tosca
French tenor Roberto Alagna has made the title role of Franco Alfano’s little-known Cyrano de Bergerac a signature since his first performances as the large-nosed hero in 2003. In advance of his Met performances of the role this month, he spoke with the Met’s Jay Goodwin about the character he calls “a little bit of Don Quixote, a little bit of Otello.”
Alfano’s Cyrano is not familiar to many opera lovers. How did you first discover it?
I discovered the score in an old bookshop in Switzerland. When I stopped to read it, I fell in love with the music and the text and the character—everything. I had the score with me for five years, trying to propose a production of the opera everywhere, but it was quite difficult. Finally, in 2003, I had the opportunity to do it in Montpellier.
What was it about the opera and the role that excited you?
I was always in love with the character after studying Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac in France, and when I discovered Alfano’s opera, I knew it was for me. The music is amazing. And you know, I read sometimes that it’s a verismo opera, but it’s not at all. It’s very French in style, more akin to Debussy or Chausson. The music is very, very moving. When we did the production in 2003, the reaction was a little bit like the sensation people have when they discover La Bohème for the first time. I remember everybody was in tears after the last act.
What are the vocal challenges of Cyrano?
I think this is the most difficult opera I have ever sung because it’s very, very high. For this reason, there is an adapted version that is lower in pitch and cut down in length, and this is almost always the version that is used. The original one, which we’re doing at the Met for the first time this season, is very demanding. It challenges me to sing very elegantly, as in French music, but also to have the exuberance of the character.
It’s such a multifaceted character.
The character is so full and rich—I think it’s the most complete character in opera. He’s a poet and a fighter and a seducer, but he’s sometimes also very comical. He has a little bit of Don Quixote, a little bit of Otello, d’Artagnan, Alfredo. But most importantly, he has panache. He’s brave in everything, and he’s a bit of a rebel. In the entire literature, you don’t find another character like this.
I have to ask about the giant prosthetic nose you wear. How does that affect your singing?
It’s difficult because singing is very involved with the nose, and when you attach this silicone piece, the resonance is a little bit disturbed. Also, once you start to sweat, it starts to feel like you have a little bug tickling your nose, but you can’t do anything about it because it’s under the silicone. But at the same time, the nose is very important because it is such a part of who he is. As soon as you put it on, you become Cyrano.