Placido Domingo Celebration, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, October 2011

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Domingo’s first appearance at the Royal Opera House (as Cavaradossi in Tosca), this was a three-part Verdi programme featuring the final acts of Otello, Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra, and amply demonstrating his superb sense of drama. Domingo is a consummate artist — not just a wonderful singer, but a terrific actor. When I lived in Chicago I remember him appearing as Idomeneo, taking over the role from another performer part way through the run. We understood he had only flown in to town that afternoon, and when he climbed out of the ship at stage rear he was quite obviously exhausted. Was this man of huge energy overdoing it? No, not at all — he was just acting! Domingo does exhaustion, grief and tender emotions better than anyone, and tonight he proved it.

The last act of Otello starts with Desdemona, performed here by Marina Poplavskaya with a gloriously pure voice, singing a lovely ‘Willow Song’, and giving full rein to Emilia addio! Then as Otello entered, Domingo’s stage presence was riveting and the act gradually drew to its inevitable tragic conclusion. Sets, costumes and lighting all helped, and this was from the 1987 Elijah Moshinsky production. Stabbing himself towards the end and dragging himself along the floor were the actions of a dying man who has lost everything.

All from the Royal Opera House

The final act of Rigoletto followed after the first interval, in the David McVicar production from the current repertoire. When Domingo as Rigoletto and Ailyn Perez as a sweetly sung Gilda crouch down outside Sparafucile’s tavern, you feel for his role as a father, and then of course he makes his fatal mistake. Rather than accompany her home after her nasty shock at seeing the Duke protesting love to another woman, he sends her off to Verona and stays to ensure the Duke’s death. The determination is all too real, and the sack with the dead body all too realistic as he drags it off. The whole cast assisted Domingo’s fine performance, with Francesco Meli as the Duke, Paata Burchuladze as Sparafucile, whose final Buona notte was powerfully sung, and Young Artist Justina Gringyte as a coarse but subtle Maddalena.

After these two final scenes there was more to come, and Simon Boccanegra brought the evening to a fitting end. A huge sound from the chorus at the start of Boccanegra’s final act was followed by Jonathan Summers as a strong Paolo, and then a superb dialogue between Domingo as Boccanegra and Paata Burchuladze as Fiesco. Boccanegra is dying from a slow and deadly poison, and not quite aware to whom he’s talking at first, but things warm up as he explains who Amelia/Maria really is, and when Marina Poplavskaya (Amelia) enters and temporarily takes a place between the two older men the sight is perfection: Boccanegra’s red robe and white undershirt, her glorious blue dress, and Fiesco’s black cloak with dark blue shirt. As the characters move, each scene is like a painting in this original 1997 Ian Judge production (adapted to a later version of the opera in 2008). Francesco Meli has entered as Adorno, along with his beloved Amelia, and Boccanegra tells Fiesco to make him the new Doge, Tu, Fiesco, compli il mio voler … Maria!! Exhausted he falls to the floor. È morto … Pace per lui pregate! It doesn’t get any better than this. Domingo does exhaustion, grief and tender emotions so well, but he does death too, and no one does it better.

At seventy years old he is amazing and seems to have a new lease of life in the baritone repertoire. He will be sorely missed when he finally retires, but in the meantime with Antonio Pappano’s wonderful conducting from the orchestra pit we are fortunate indeed to continue seeing him perform.

Leave a Comment