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Romantic opera in three acts and an epilogue, op 45 (1974)
Libretto by Jaan Kross
Based on the play by Edmond Rostand

Estonian National Opera Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Paul Mägi

Cyrano de Bergerac, poet and cadet - Sauli Tiilikainen (baritone)
Roxane, Cyrano's cousin - Mia Huhta (soprano)
Christian de Neuvillette, a young cadet - Mati Kõrts (tenor)
Count de Guiche - Jassi Zahharov (baritone)

Roxane's duenna - Riina Airenne (mezzo-soprano)
Captain Castel-Jaloux, commander of the Gascon company, Cyrano's friend - Rauno Elp (baritone)
Ragueneau, baker and poet - Juhan Tralla (tenor)
Lise, his wife - Margit Saulep (soprano)
The Friar - Ivo Kuusk (tenor)
Three tattered poets - Väino Karo (tenor), Priit Kruusement (baritone), Ain Anger (bass)
Two cadets - Mart Madiste (tenor), Märt Jakobson (bariton)
Two sentinels - Ants Kollo (tenor), Priit Kruusement (bariton)

CPO 999 832-2 [Recorded Tallinn, 2000. TT: 1 hr:48 mins]

Prompted to explore this Estonian opera by the recent receipt for review of CDs by contemporary Estonian composers, one's first reaction is surprise that so ideal a subject hadn't been set as an opera before! The second is surprise that it hadn't established itself in the UK opera repertoire long ago.

The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is clear and familiar and in this realisation is is duly affecting and not too wordy. Eino Tamberg (b.1930) is famous in his own country but still likely to be a new name to many readers.

His music is always apt to the moment in the drama, expressive without drawing attention to its cleverness, in a sophisticated neo-romantic idiom which will trouble no-one yet keeps you listening intently to its subtleties. The protagonists are characterised in the scoring and interact in a way that makes singing seem the right medium for conversation. The pacing is perfect and the whole tragic love story is encompassed in under two hours music; just right.

The 'elite singers from neighbouring Finland' all acquit themselves impressively, my only slight caveat that at times the coloratura soprano Mia Huhta is tested by Roxane's tessitura; it is a part for an exceptional artist like Claron McFadden. But no problem really; parallel texts are provided and one comes to relish the beauties of the Nordic language. The excellent Symphony Orchestra of the Estonian National Opera under Paul Mägi gives pointed support throughout and all in all this is a release which confirms that we ignore opera from the far north at our peril and to serious loss.

Companies in Britain should be vying to give CYRANO DE BERGERAC its UK premiere; it would suit ideally the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's international post-graduate students, and appeal to the audiences of Opera Holland Park, who are not deterred by a little novelty. (See also my review of Carl Unander-Scharin's King of Fools, and of the peculiar way in which I came across Sallinen's Kullervo.)

To explore Tamberg further, consider the CD previously reviewed of two of his symphonies and the violin concerto (Estonian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi and Peeter Lije, with Irina Botschkowa, violin BM-CD 31.9075) received in a batch of Estonian music and which reinforces the good impression made by the opera. Shostakovich and Prokofiev will come to mind, but Tamberg is a man to himself, never dour or flippant, and there is a quality of warmth and avoidance of extremes which will appeal to many listeners.


© Peter Grahame Woolf