Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Divinity of Placido Domingo

For the first time since 1994, Placido Domingo is singing at the San Francisco Opera, in Franco Alfano's 1936 operatic version of "Cyrano de Bergerac." It's a handsome production, the music is pleasant, and the role is a perfect vehicle for the 69-year-old tenor whose voice, though diminished, is still one of the serious wonders of the world.

Last night's performance was powerfully nostalgiac for a number of old standees in the balcony. One nearby gentleman had seen Domingo in 1971 when he jumped in for an ailing tenor as Manrico opposite Leontyne Price in "Il Trovatore." My first sighting was in 1975, soon after moving to San Francisco, in Lotfi Mansouri's production of "Andrea Chenier" back when it was new. Then we saw him in a series of wonderful Jean-Pierre Ponelle productions of "Cav/Pag" (with Tatiana Troyanos as Santuzza), "Otello" in 1978, and "Carmen" in 1981. There was also the Harold Prince production of "La Fanciulla del West" in 1979 with Carol Neblett, and the lavish-when-new production of "Samson et Dalila" in 1980 with the awesome, inimitable Shirley Verrett, who just died last week.

I didn't know at the time that we were hearing legendary performances, but I do now, and the memories they conjured made me feel a bit old and mortal last night. The lingering melancholy should be perfect for tonight's opening performance at the opera of "The Makropulos Case" by Janacek, which really is all about mortality.

Update: The San Francisco Opera did right by "The Makropulos Case" this evening. It's a great production, cast and conductor. Get yourself a ticket, even if it's $10 standing room.


Nancy Ewart said...

Domingo is God - is there any question? I saw him in both the Carmen (also the movie version) and Samson and Delilah. Was that the one with the controversial ballet in the middle? I can't remember exactly but I remember the thrilling final scene when the temple comes down and Domingo is smashing the Philistines and thrilling the rest of us with his superb singing. Shirley Verrett, who just passed away, was magnificent but then, I like voices with a lot of warmth in them (ditto Grace Bumbry, et).

Also, although the memory is a bit foggy, I seem to remember that he had a pretty good physique for an opera singer - certainly better than his "rival" Pavarotti.

Thanks for reminding me!

freeze said...

Nice write-up. I know that things like this can be incredibly nostalgic, and the nostalgic pull can really overshadow reality. But in Domingo's case-- and this is a rare case-- his career can stand alone without any nostalgia. I was only 26 when I became a fan a couple years ago. No history there, and yet he was still thrilling as recently as 2 years ago and is still thrilling at 70. His voice and his presence and artistry have changed, some a bit for the worse (bit more wear and tear in voice) and some for the better (his aura and presence is less impulsive and more cerebral). So, an artist like that can definitely be enjoyed without the weight or the baggage of nostalgia, although the sheer amount of work he has left for a new fan to discover is impossible to ignore.

Civic Center said...

Dear coolfreeze: Domingo is definitely living in the present, something I also try to do as much as possible, but this was one of those nights where time tugged unwillingly. I was suddenly taken back to my own 20s, standing at the San Francisco Opera balcony rail where the sound is the best and where the cool people used to hang out, and Domingo was in his absolute prime singing major roles.

Going back to see Karita Mattila the next night in "Makropulos Case" was perfect, and brought me right back to the present. If you live in the Bay Area, do check it out.