Plácido Domingo Celebration – review

Royal Opera House, London

Opera

Plácido Domingo Celebration Royal Opera House, London ★★★★★

Plácido Domingo first sang at the Royal Opera House 40 years ago, and has returned season after season, notching up a remarkable 26 major roles with the company. Carefully designed around the still impressive vocal capabilities of the 70-year-old artist, this anniversary programme showcased him in the final acts of three Verdi operas.

In two of these he presented baritone roles – highly unusually for a star tenor. Domingo's recent migration into baritone repertory has not been an ill-considered or even a surprising move; high notes, especially the crucial tenor top C, have never been his strength, and he began his career singing baritone roles in Spanish operetta. But he started here as Otello, one of the ultimate tenor challenges and formerly one of his leading roles.

He remains an authoritative interpreter of this uniquely demanding assignment, only an occasional roughness on the surface of his tone carrying a hint of strain. He was well partnered by Marina Poplavskaya as Desdemona, her double aria giving her the lion's share of a scene in which she sounded luminous, if cool.

Next came the last act of Rigoletto, an opera Domingo has never sung at Covent Garden and whose baritone title role he added to his repertory last year. His interpretation seemed as yet unfinished, and it was here that the limitations of a tenor singing in baritone range kicked in. Domingo's lower register is weak where Verdi requires resilience; he was overpowered in the quartet by his colleagues – Ailyn Pérez's pristine Gilda, Justina Gringyte's warm Maddalena and Francesco Meli's eager Duke. Correspondingly, his climactic higher phrases lacked the vital sense of tension written into them by the composer. But he gave a remarkable account of the dying Doge in Simon Boccanegra, suggesting martyr-like nobility in his acceptance of his fate.

Dramatically, the evening reached respectable levels, but conductor Antonio Pappano ensured that musical values were genuinely high. When the house rose to applaud its favourite tenor at the close, he was visibly moved.

George Hall

Contributor

George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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