David Serero: “I Want to Take the Americans to the French Opera”

In an effort to make opera more popular, French baritone David Serero is blending genres. From April 12 through 22, he will be presenting a “jazzy” version of Cyrano de Bergerac in New York.

One foot in the classics, and the other in creative whimsy. The French singer, stage director, and producer has been living in New York for three years, and is an expert in shifting between worlds. Following on from a Moroccan version of Othello, a Sephardic take on The Merchant of Venice — a play by Shakespeare often criticized for being anti-Semitic — and an adaptation of Molière’s Dom Juan set in a nightclub, David Serero is now turning to the “the greatest production in the French theatrical canon,” Cyrano de Bergerac.

However, the Frenchman encountered a major obstacle when adapting Edmond Rostand’s script into English — how to transpose the rhymes. The translation by Anthony Burgess, a British author known for his novel A Clockwork Orange, “does not do justice to the play, nor to its rich language,” according to David Serero. Instead, he “started afresh.” The untranslatable reference to the animal Aristophanes calls “Hippocampéléphantocamélos,” has been removed, and the renowned “nose monologue” has been rewritten.

As part of the “modernization” of the text, the baritone drew inspiration from one of the golden rules of Hollywood: audiences have to be immersed in the action within the first five minutes. There is no time for any respite, and the original 1897 play has been shortened by 30 minutes. David Serero then added what he refers to as “champagne” and “glitter” — a few flights of fancy through references to American pop culture. Theatergoers are treated to an extract from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” as well an entrance worthy of a Broadway show, and a dancing Cyrano sporting a top hat.

“I use opera and American cultural references such as jazz and musicals to introduce the audience to classical French theater,” says the director, who is originally from the town of Chelles, in the Seine-et-Marne département. “The fact I am not American allows me to be more daring. My next project might be a hip-hop version of Molière!”

Cyrano de Bergerac

From April 12 through 22
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011