I saw Placido Domingo
as Cyrano de Bergerac
recently. What a thrill. Not that I'm star-struck; I've seen too many stars and been struck by how little they measure up to the hype. But it really is something to see a true superstar perform. Someone like Domingo brings such presence and charisma to the stage, you feel it immediately, like a very quiet tremor underground. The excitement is there before he ever opens his mouth.
And that Sunday at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House
, it was certainly there afterward. As the stage went dark, people began moving down the aisles. At first I thought they were planning to throw bouquets--a now frowned-upon sign of enthusiasm that I haven't seen in years. There were too many people for that, though, and they were all holding up cell-phone cameras, not long-stemmed roses. The rest of us were applauding and cheering, and Domingo really looked happy, not at all like someone who--after singing 134 different roles in nearly 3,500 performances, more than any other tenor ever--might understandably be a tad jaded. As the curtain fell, he leaned down and out to the side as if to get one more look at the audience. Even if it was to give the audience one more look at him, it was a sign of enthusiasm you rarely see in a star.
For myself, I was still trying to reel in the tears I shed during the last scene, when Cyrano comes to see Roxane for the last time, and he reads aloud the final letter sent her by, she thinks, her long-dead husband. We all know that Cyrano wrote that letter, and that he remembers every word. When the perennially unobservant Roxane wonders how he can read anything now that it's dark, we see the letter lying in his lap as he speaks. Oh, the heavenly sorrow of (someone else's) unrequited, obsessive love!
After Jon Carroll
, my favorite Chronicle
columnist, saw the opera, he wrote about viewing a play or an opera for the first time--in this case, Edmond Rostand's
play Cyrano de Bergerac
, on which the opera is based, with his daughter. Having learned from movies and TV that the hero never dies, she was emotionally walloped by the ending. His column reminded me of the time I was watching the final scenes of a classic opera that does not end well for the principles. (Not that that's a clue.) Noticing the tears streaming down my cheeks, the woman next to me leaned over and asked softly, "Is this your first Tosca
And yet, as with Madama Butterfly
or La Boheme
, I still cry at the end of Tosca
. With Cyrano
, play or opera, I think knowing how it ends--not just knowing that all the words that made Roxane fall in love are Cyrano's, and that he has nobly kept the truth from her all these years, and that even now he is disregarding a fatal head wound, just to see her one more time--well, it makes that last scene unutterably more poignant. You might call it sentimental, and hyper romantic, and you could be right; but you'd still believe if you saw someone like Placido Domingo in the role. I could cry just thinking about it.
Music: Scenes from San Francisco Opera's Cyrano de Bergerac