A Legend Comes Home
07/17/2010 - & July 20, 22*, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 2010
Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
George Gagnidze/Plácido Domingo* (Simon Boccanegra), Inva Mula/Angela Gheorghiu* (Amelia Grimaldi), Giacomo Prestia/Ferruccio Furlanetto* (Jacopo Fiesco), Fabio Sartori/Marcello Giordani* (Gabriele Adorno), Angel Ódena*/Simone Piazzola (Paolo Albiani), Miguel Angel Zapater (Pietro), Kostantyn Andreiev (A captain of the crossbow men), Beatriz de Gálvez (Amelia’s maid)
Chorus of the Teatro Real, Peter Burian (chorus director), Orchestra of the Teatro Real, Jesús López Cobos (conductor)
Giancarlo del Monaco (production), Wolfgang von Zoubek (lighting)
P. Domingo (© Javier del Real)
Of course I have seen Plácido Domingo on stage – many, many times. But I have never seen anything like the performance he gave last evening when he came home to Madrid, the final stop on his tour of the world's great opera houses. My only remotely analogous experience was in Cardiff, less than three weeks ago, when I heard Bryn Terfel sing his first Hans Sachs on home ground in Wales. There too, the feelings of the audience – anticipation, respect, gratitude and love – were almost palpable. Last night, however, there was an extra ingredient – mystery: What would it be like to hear their tenor, their hero, the most famous Spanish singer in the world, sing a baritone role?
There may be some who don't know that Domingo began his singing career as a baritone. Soon, however, it became clear that he was really a tenor and he has sung as a tenor for nearly half a century. As the last of the famous Three Tenors who is still performing, he has remained in the consciousness of the wider public and become a kind of symbol of opera. He has also come to be viewed as something of a vocal – and even physiological – phenomenon. He has learned and sung far more roles than anyone else. At the age of sixty-nine, he is still singing and conducting and managing opera companies in Los Angeles and Washington. He is also a tireless benefactor and mentor of young singers.
Just three days before this performance, I saw a more personal side of Domingo when we shared a commercial flight from London to Madrid. He was recognized by almost everyone, but most kept an awed and respectful distance. Except for a ten-year old girl named Eleanor, who sat across the aisle from me. She was determined to get a photo of herself with Domingo. She got it and more – a great big hug.
Even for such an accomplished and experienced singer, the role of Simon Boccanegra presents many challenges. The character's complexity is Shakespearean. Indeed, it's rather ironic that this role has long seemed to me to be the most Shakespearian of Verdi's characters even though, of course, Shakespeare had nothing to do with it. The psychological depth, the rich and complex human emotions, the public and private face, the requirement that the singer seem to age a generation during the course of the opera are all there. And, indeed, they were all there in Domingo's performance.
His acting was impeccable. His voice remains thrilling. His artistry – for example, the way he infused one word, “figlia”, with all of the love and concern that a father feels for a child – virtually peerless.
Of course, Domingo is not a baritone. He does not sound like one. While his rich and ringing tenor voice filled the house, his lower range lacked the necessary power in some scenes. And it also lacked the baritonal weight that Verdi clearly wanted. In the scenes of recognition (with his daughter), reconciliation (with Fiesco) and the haunting death scene, the absence of true baritonal timbre made little difference. But in the council chamber scene where Domingo sang from the throne, a tenor voice just seemed inappropriate. And in the trio during this scene, we were clearly hearing two tenors and a soprano. But we were also hearing an artist still at the height of his interpretive powers.
Of the three other principals, only Ferrucio Furlanetto gave a performance that could be described as superb. His rich, rolling bass voice filled the house and his acting, particularly in the reconciliation and death scenes, was a match for Domingo's own. After a shaky start (marred by a not unprecedented breakdown in coordination between herself and the pit), Angela Gheorghiu sang well, but she was not the equal of Inva Mula, the Amelia in the other cast. Marcello Giordani brought his characteristic strengths to the role of Adorno, singing with a robust voice and a blooming top. But his intonation was rather spotty, and he lacked the vocal beauty and refinement of Fabio Sartori, who sang the role in the other cast.
The chorus again performed brilliantly as did the orchestra under the baton of Jesús López Cobos. Quite noticeably in the extended death scene (which was sublimely moving with Domingo transforming himself into an almost wraithlike figure), Ms. Gheorghiu did not take her eyes off the conductor. As Boccanegra crashed to the floor, lifeless, there was an audible murmur of concern. But all was well. The standing ovation took on the quality of a celebration. And it went on and on and on.
Plácido Domingo will celebrate his seventieth birthday at home, in Madrid, in a performance on January 21st. For details, please visit www.teatro-real.com
Arlene Judith Klotzko