Alfano’s Sakùntala

Alfano is probably best known for his completion of the third act of Puccini’s Turandot or maybe for his Cyrano de Bergerac but he did write other operas including Sakùntala, which Fritz Reiner described as “the Italian Parsifal“.  I don’t know why as, apart from having a religious/mythological theme, they aren’t very similar at all.

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Alfano’s Cyrano with Domingo and Radvanovsky

It’s hard to think of a play that would make a better basis for an opera libretto than Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.  Henri Cain’s adaptation is rather good; somewhat simplifying and tightening up the plot in a similar manner to that later taken by Britten and Pears with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a shame Franco Alfano’s music doesn’t really rise to the same heights.  It has its moments, especially later in the opera, but much of the time it’s dull and impressionistic; more like a film soundtrack than an opera score.  I guess the lesson is that one just can’t do verismo while trying to avoid vulgarity and excessive melodrama.  It also has to be said that much of the time the music seems to be fighting the natural rhythm of the words rather than supporting it.  What the music does have is Alfano’s trademark torturing of his singers, especially the principal four roles of Cyrano, Roxane, Christian and De Guiche.

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