Placido Domingo covets starring role as Verdi's doge? It's opera's worst-kept secret

Veteran Spanish singer Plácido Domingo to take on baritone role of Simon Boccagnegra

The fact that Plácido Domingo has long had his eye on Verdi's doge has been one of the worst-kept secrets in opera. He was already talking about it back in 2001. "I'd love to have the chance to sing just one Simon Boccanegra," he said in an interview with Opera magazine in September that year. "It is just an extraordinary work. It's so painful, the life of this man looking for his daughter for so many years. And the recognition scene is one of the most unbelievable moments in any opera.'

Of all the roles the Spanish singer has taken on in what must now be the closing stage of his singing career, Boccanegra is one that might suit him very well. It will almost certainly be a better fit than the Turkish sultan Bajazet in Tamerlano, a recent debut that found him tackling Handel for the first time.

Domingo's comfort zone has always been less clearly demarcated than that of perhaps any other tenor. Recent years have seen him branching out to become one of opera's most prolific all-rounders: he sings, he conducts, he heads opera companies in Washington and Los Angeles.

To find him taking on a baritone role such as Boccanegra at the end of a career spanning five decades is not such a great surprise when you consider where he started. Singing in zarzuelas (a Spanish genre close to operetta) in his parents' troupe, he sang as a baritone. It was as a baritone that he auditioned for the Mexican National Opera in 1959. They, however, spotted his potential and took him on as a tenor.

Yet as his tenor career developed - he debuted at Covent Garden in 1971, as Cavaradossi in Tosca - his signature roles were never the light-voiced and light-headed heroes of Donizetti and others. Those he largely left to Pavarotti, with whom he could never compete purely in terms of easy, airy high notes. Domingo preferred the more psychologically complex roles, which tend to have their centre of gravity set a notch lower.

He dipped a toe fleetingly back in baritone waters in 1992, recording Figaro in Rossini's Barber of Seville under the exacting baton of Claudio Abbado, though some dismissed that as a record-company gimmick. And in recent years, when the arias get too high, he has been known to transpose them down - not that anyone except opera buffs would notice.

By the time Covent Garden audiences get to hear him as Boccanegra in late June, he will already have sung the role in Berlin, New York and Madrid, and so the arguments for or against his suitably for the role will already have been had many times over. But Domingo's charisma is undiminished, and this, like any London appearance by this extraordinary musician, is certain to be an event. Domingo has already sung more roles than any other tenor in memory. What's one more before he retires?

Erica Jeal


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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