Domingo at the Met
Arias by Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Berlioz, Bizet, Wagner
As Placido Domingo remembers in his autobiography My First Forty Years, his debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1968 occurred in an unexpected way as he was forced to substitute Franco Corelli in Adriana Lecouvreur (opposite Renata Tebaldi) with very little notice. From that moment on, the collaboration between the Spanish tenor and the American theatre was successful for the next four decades and to prove it, the Sony label released a three-disc set to celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of the 1968 debut.
Domingo at The Met is a huge, wonderful tribute, including forty-two arias (half of them have never been released before) from the Italian, French, German, Russian and Chinese repertoires, just to confirm the singer’s versatility. The recordings range from 1969 to 2013 and therefore include some baritonal roles as Giorgio Germont and Simon Boccanegra that Domingo has sung in recent years.
The first and the second CDs are based on one theme. The first CD can be subtitled “The Verdi Album”, as it collects only operas written by the Italian composer, while the second is a selection of “Verismo Arias”. Domingo’s eponymous roles are more or less well represented by the excerpts from Rigoletto, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Carmen, just to cite a few, but the selection offers also the chance to hear less famous performances from Stiffelio, Sly, Francesca da Rimini, Fedora and (rarities of all rarities) The First Emperor and Iphigénie en Tauride.
The last CD is a mixture. Next to the predominant French roles, there are one aria from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, one from Tan Dun’s The First Emperor and finally three Wagnerian arias from Parsifal, Die Walküre and Lohengrin.
Considering the variety of Domingo’s repertoire and the length of his career, Domingo at The Met is a considered and all-embracing album where his performances have been presented at their best even at the acoustic level, as the sound has been cleaned carefully and the earliest recordings are as good as the most recent ones.
The performances are not all at the same level, but they are generally very good. Of course, there are roles in which Domingo is perfect, as the Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), Otello, Cavaradossi (Tosca), Don José (Carmen) and Werther, and others where the natural limit of his voice prevents him to achieve the best possible outcome, as in Nessun dorma (Turandot) or in Celeste Aida (Aida), but overall the wise use of his vocal means, the naturalness of his singing and his formidable technique always support him and there is virtually not a single moment in which Domingo at The Met is not a pleasure for the ears.
The famous arias as those cited above are not real novelties as there are not many occasions in which the result cannot be imagined by those who are accustomed to hear Domingo (probably everybody except the newbies). The surprise, as for every renowned singer, is in inspiration, inflexions and all the other features that change from time to time and this is what a listener seeks.
Things change when new arias from different repertoires come in. Among them, I point out his Hermann in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. This is a repertoire where it is not usual to hear Domingo and probably it is for this reason – more than for an insuperable incompatibility – that it is strange to hear Prosti, prelestnoe sozdanie sung by him. Far more agreeable are the three Wagnerian arias (Amfortas! Die Wunde!, Ein Schwert Verhieß mir der Vater and In Fernem Land), where his voice is comfortable and natural.
The three CDs of Domingo at The Met are a true monument to this great performer and a tribute of gratitude of the Met to him that probably has been surpassed (visually, at least) only by Domingo’s memorable entry in the Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island, where the singer appears seated on the throne as the God of the Seas, Neptune.