Nabucco review – Plácido Domingo exudes charisma

Royal Opera House, London
In the title role, Domingo played the ageing king with captivating physicality

Around a decade ago Plácido Domingo was still singing Tristan. Shortly after, his tenor voice fading, he switched down to baritone, choosing his roles carefully, favouring Verdi. Managing the notes is only a starting point to distinguishing a voice type. Timbre, strength and control from top to bottom of the range all contribute. The common complaint has been that Domingo still has the vocal character of a tenor, without the necessary baritonal weight. Some mind, and think he should retire. The rest still revel in the musicality, intelligence and experience of a singer nearing the close of a 45-year career. He returned to Covent Garden last week to reprise the title role in Verdi’s early Nabucco.

Domingo sang it when Daniele Abbado’s austere staging, in Alison Chitty’s understated designs, was new in 2013. The production treats the work more as oratorio, letting the chorus hold sway – which they do, singing superbly under the experienced baton of Maurizio Benini. Abigaille (Liudmyla Monastyrska), Ismaele (Jean-François Borras), Fenena (Jamie Barton) and Zaccaria (John Relyea) are all more than reliable, but bring little in the way of characterisation. This played to Domingo’s strengths. Others may produce greater volume (the Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias will sing five performances). Domingo offered dignity, courage and charisma. Now in his mid-70s, he played the ageing king, made insane by a raging god, with compelling physicality. White-haired and grizzled, he had the look of El Greco’s penitent St Peter. The prompt box was in use: Domingo won’t be the first, or the last, to need it occasionally. Less visible devices – various kinds of earpieces used by some actors – are available. He is a man of the theatre, happy to stick with a tradition going back to the Elizabethans.

In rep at the Royal Opera House, London WC2, until 30 June


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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