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Cyrano de Bergerac opens to everyday pre-show preparations at a theater. As the onstage audience files in, wondering whether Cyrano de Bergerac will enforce his ban on the actor Montfleury taking the stage, we learn that the woman Christian is infatuated with is the prize sought by the powerful Comte (“Count”) de Guiche. Preparing to confront the man, Christian is told that a hundred-man ambush is set for his friend, Lignière, who has just left the theater.
Montfleury takes the stage, immediately rebuked by Cyrano’s offstage voice. The disgruntled crowd, unsure of the situation, demands explanation. Cyrano explains his quarrel, offers to reimburse everyone’s entry fee, and embarrasses a patron preoccupied by Cyrano’s nose. When someone else rebuts Cyrano’s pomp, he, too, is verbally humiliated, handedly defeated as Cyrano duels and composes a poem simultaneously.
The theater clears out but Cyrano and Le Bret, his close friend, remain. Le Bret is confounded by Cyrano’s aims, who in turn defends his dedication to simplicity and uprightness. Cyrano explains that Monfleury had pursued his beloved. Lamenting his ugliness, Cyrano is comforted by Le Bret, who already knows of Cyrano’s love for his cousin, Roxane—the same woman Christian has also fallen for. Roxane’s chaperone enters, informing Cyrano that his cousin would like to meet privately the next day and with raised spirits, Cyrano accompanies Lignière to confront the force in wait.
Inside Ragueneau’s bakery, a number of poets exchange their work for foodstuffs. Cyrano steps inside and the owner lauds the prior night’s poetic duel. Waiting for Roxane, Cyrano dictates a poem to help the baker woo his wife. A musketeer arrives, bringing news that there was a “massacre” at the Porte de Nesle the night before, no one knows its instigator. Roxane comes into the store and the others—including her pastry-bribed chaperone—depart, leaving the two cousins alone.
De Guiche, already married, has proposed that Roxane marry his handpicked puppet suitor so that he may enjoy her favors on the side. Roxane and Cyrano reminisce about childhood summers together. She sees Cyrano’s wounded hand and prompts him to admit his role in the previous night’s events: he single-handedly dispatched the mob prepared for Lignière. Cyrano insists that Roxane share her news as well. She reveals her fondness for a distant lover, whom we (and he) imagine to be Cyrano— until she identifies the man as Christian. She asks Cyrano to look after Christian, since he’s not a Gascon like the rest of their company.
Consumed by grief, Cyrano wants no part in the crowd’s revels. De Guiche emerges and offers to sponsor him as patron, impressed by the previous day’s events. Cyrano refuses and de Guiche bitterly admits that he had been the one who contracted the mob, souring relations with an unapologetic Cyrano. Le Bret cautions against Cyrano’s “excess” and lack of discressionary tact. Christian’s presence precludes any discussion of Roxane, and the insistent crowd won’t disperse until Cyrano tells of his previous night’s exploits. Christian provokes Cyrano, interrupting him by making references to his nose—interjections that fit within Cyrano’s metrical and rhythmic scheme. Honoring his agreement with Roxane, Cyrano controls his characteristically explosive temper. Finally, Cyrano sends everyone out of the room.
Surprisingly calm, he welcomes Christian to the regiment and reveals Roxane’s love for the young man. Aware of Christian’s bumbling style, Cyrano proposes that they woo Roxane together: he’ll provide the words and spirit while Christian furnishes the person and semblance. Cyrano’s own fondness of Roxane remains unrevealed.
Newly promoted as colonel of The Guards, De Guiche visits Roxane to announce that his brigade—including Cyrano’s Gascon regiment—will soon besiege Arras. Trying to protect the men she loves, Roxane suggests that Cyrano would welcome battle rather than shun it, and tricks de Guiche into believing that leaving Cyrano and his cadets behind would be vengeful repayment for the recent strife between the two men. But de Guiche thinks Roxane’s “advice” to him testifies to a latent love for none other than him, and he proposes to meet her that evening She convinces him that it’s folly and impresses upon him honor’s duty.
Cyrano encounters Christian, who now rejects his aid, preferring to pursue Roxane independently. The two lovers linger outside a poetry reading, and Christian’s one-on-one attempt fails; let down by Christian’s banal performance, Roxane leaves. As Cyrano leaves the theater, Christian asks once more for his aid. They notice Roxane’s light on, and Christian calls up to her window as Cyrano, hidden from view, provides the young man with words of eloquence. The team effort proves halting and Cyrano takes over. Shielded by night, he directly communicates his love for Roxane without intermediary. Christian interrupts, requesting a kiss and, though irritated, Cyrano continues so beautifully that Roxane grants his double’s request.
Presenting himself, Cyrano announces the approach of a friar, who carries de Guiche’s letter to Roxane, informing her that he has not left with the troops and longs for Roxane to meet him. Roxane instead tells the friar that the note mandates that he immediately join Roxane and Christian in marriage. Knowing that de Guiche will soon arrive looking for Roxane, Cyrano goes to head him off. He purports to have fallen from the moon and detains de Guiche with an account of his many manners of space travel. When he’s sure Christian and Roxane are wed, Cyrano drops his façade as the bride and groom emerge from church. Incensed, de Guiche orders The Guards, including Christian and Cyrano, off to war at once.
After Cyrano expresses disapproval for de Guiche’s ignoble military tactics—especially his disposing of the white plume that marked his rank—a self-satisfied de Guiche informs the regiment they have been offered up as a sacrificial mark to allow Spanish provisions to bypass French lines.
Christian longs to write Roxane a “goodbye” and Cyrano reveals a letter prepared for the occasion. Then a coach approaches “on His Majesty’s service,” interrupting them. Roxane emerges from within, “in love’s service,” but the men insist she return to safety; she refuses and remains with the regiment. Ragueneau, her coachman, shares provisions that he had stowed away. De Guiche returns and decides to remain with the company he doomed, in chivalrous defense of the lady.
Cyrano pulls Christian aside to tell him that two letters were daily sent to Roxane. The sincerity and emotion conveyed by the letters brought her to love Christian’s true inner beauty. Christian realizes that both he and Cyrano love her dearly, and proposes therefore to unveil their ruse, to let Roxane freely choose her love. Cyrano dismisses the discussion as trivial, convinced that their deaths are imminent. When the gunfire begins, Christian is fatally wounded. Cyrano tells the dying soldier that Roxane chose to remain his wife, though he had never revealed their arrangement. Sending Roxane away with a wounded de Guiche, Cyrano leads the charge to allow reinforcements to arrive.
Gossip has it that Cyrano visits weekly the convent where his widowed cousin has lived since her husband’s death. The sisters worry that “he’s not a good Catholic,” but the Mother Superior affirms their appreciation of Cyrano’s company. De Guiche is visiting Roxane, as is Le Bret, who laments Cyrano’s state, lonely and alienated because of his satirical writings. De Guiche admits envying the freedom Cyrano enjoys but warns Le Bret of possible retaliation being plotted against Cyrano. Raueneau arrives with news that Cyrano has been hit by a log. They go to help him without informing Roxane, who is astonished at Cyrano’s uncharacteristic tardiness.
Engrossed in her embroidery, she doesn’t notice Cyrano’s wound when he arrives, recounting as he does the week’s happenings. But then he falters, provoking Roxane’s awareness and concern. When he mentions old wounds, she empathetically motions to the letter around her neck. Asking to read it, Cyrano does so, aloud, and Roxane wonders if it’s not too dark to decipher the letters. Then, seeing both his eyes and the letter closed, Roxane realizes that the letter she has carried with her all along was Cyrano’s. His two friends burst in, and as Roxane mourns the second loss of her one love, sword in hand, Cyrano refuses to peaceably give way to death, ending with a last note of “panache.”