At this rate, Placido Domingo had better start thinking about what to sing on the 50th anniversary of his Metropolitan Opera debut, which rolls around in 2018.
Three days shy of his 69th birthday, an age when most tenors are retired and teaching master classes, Domingo took on the title role of Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" at the Metropolitan Opera House on Monday night. When this production was new 15 years ago, Domingo sang the starring tenor part of Gabriele Adorno. This time he shifted to the baritone role of Boccanegra, the conflicted Doge of Genoa he portrayed for the first time at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden last October.
Domingo began as a baritone before switching to tenor when he was still a teenager. He no longer sings the lyric and spinto roles that made him famous, instead preferring parts that show off the burnished lower part of his tenor, such as Wagner's Siegmund.
His is not the ideal Verdi baritone, lacking the timbre in his lower voice that can boldly slice through thicker parts of the orchestration. Yet, he is so much a musician that he turned Boccanegra into a sympathetic and noble triumph, with silky softness substituting for polished power.
There was a charge in the audience that's lacking most nights at the Met, a feeling that this was a special moment — an usher had to interrupt someone in the audience who pulled out a video camera and started recording in mid-performance. Pop singers routinely have makeovers; not so, opera divos.
He commanded the stage with grandeur in "Plebe! Patrizi! (Plebeians! Patricians!)" When Domingo sang his final act duet "M'ardon le tempia (My temples throb)" with bass James Morris (Fiesco) on stage and music director James Levine in the pit, it likely was one of the most veteran moments in the company's history. Among the trio, there was nearly 120 years of Met experience. Style more than made up for vocal cords diminished by decades.
As sweat dripped from Domingo's long white hair and short gray beard, Levine held the singer on stage for a prolonged curtain call. It made one wonder what Domingo would have done with "Re Lear" had Verdi ever gone ahead and composed a project that long stymied him. He is contemplating other baritone roles, perhaps more Verdi or Athanael in Massenet's "Thais." There is little doubt Domingo, with a sure knowledge of his vocal limits, can give a superior performance of whatever he chooses.
He was joined by tenor Marcello Giordani (Adorno), soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and a trio of bass-baritones, Morris, Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo) and Richard Bernstein (Pietro). Morris, in his early 60s, has a weathered sound to his Fiesco that sounds much like his Wanderer in Wagner's "Siegfried." Pieczonka seemed shaky at the start but settled down and was a winning Amelia with gleaming notes, while Carfizzi and Bernstein displayed the Verdian timbre that Domingo couldn't quite muster.
Levine and the orchestra had a glorious evening in this tale of loss, love, politics, intrigue, hidden identity and vendetta. They weaved subtle shadings, propulsion and majesty, especially in the magnificent council chamber scene that Verdi and Arrigo Boito added in their 1881 revision to Francesco Maria Piave's original libretto, used at the 1857 premiere. Giancarlo del Monaco's production, now directed by Peter McClintock, has the type of hyperrealistic sets that bring audience applause but now are out of favor in Peter Gelb's Met.
There are five more performances at the Met, and the Saturday matinee on Feb. 6 will be televised in high definition to movie theaters around the world. Domingo also is to sing Boccanegra at the Zurich Opera (March 23), Milan's Teatro all Scala (starting April 16), London's Royal Opera (opening June 29) and Madrid's Teatro Real (starting July 22).
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