Cyrano De Bergerac, Royal Opera House, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Not the kindest way to treat yourself at the ripe old age of 65
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The Independent Culture

Impossible to avoid Placido Domingo at present, with his lap of honour at the Brits underscored by his Wagner and Italian-ballad CDs, plus soft-focus interviews on the box. But the little-known opera in which Domingo has chosen to star at Covent Garden showcases him in cruelly sharp focus: not only is his voice exposed, but also the state of his physique. Fencing at full tilt while singing your heart out is not the kindest way to treat yourself at the ripe old age of 65.

Domingo's vehicle is Cyrano de Bergerac by Franco Alfano. Though almost nobody has heard of this Italian composer, everybody has heard his music, since his was the hand behind the completion of Turandot. Alfano's Cyrano is a beautifully crafted work, with an eloquently heroic role at its core, even if great tracts of it do pastiche Debussy.

When Domingo comes on, he's unrecognisable - straggly locks, sunken cheeks, drooping beak, a drowned-rat version of the swashbuckling musketeers who throng the stage in the pullulating opening tableau of Francesca Zambello's production. But as soon as he opens his mouth, you know it's him: his voice still has that marvellous freshness and focus. And when he starts to fence and declaim, he seems deft and nimble: a theatrical illusion fostered by the deftness going on all round him.

Domingo powers the drama onward unerringly. His little gasps of dismay as his beloved Roxane reveals her love for Christian are oddly moving; when he takes in hand the young stumblebum she loves (nicely incarnated by Raymond Very), his magnanimity becomes heart-rending. But the triangular love scene that concludes the first half of the evening takes off like a rocket, as Cyrano's promptings are transmuted from conventional platitudes to words from the heart.

Mostly, this quintessentially Gallic score meanders gracefully - much helped by Peter J Davison's handsome sets - with its emotional rhetoric understated. But when the denouement comes, it rises once more to the occasion - as does Domingo. Bleeding from his mortal wound, he expresses, through voice, gestures and body language, the suppressed passion of a lifetime.

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