Tekst: Peter Franken
Visions Fugitives, Piano Sonata No. 8, Romeo & Juliet
Warner Classics 9029526768
And yet (or perhaps because of this): there is no other repertoire that shows as clearly whether a role suits him or not. He was never a memorable Rodolfo and his Pinkerton was not noteworthy. Even as Calaf, despite the great performances, he did not really identify with the role. He was too friendly, too kind, too human.
Domingo sang his very first Cavaradossi on 30 September 1961 and since then he has sung more performances of Tosca than of any other opera. This is the role he researched with the utmost care. He even added some qualities to the painter’s character that are not really there, in my opinion.
Personally, I find Cavarodossi’s flirtation with the revolution no more than a whim, but Domingo takes it dead serious and sees himself not only as the lover but also as the freedom fighter. From the start, he knows that the execution is actually going to take place, but he is playing along with the lie to spare his beloved Floria. Very humane and very moving.
He sang his first Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1969. It was not planned: he took over at the last minute for the sick Sándor Kónya. Birgit Nilsson was Tosca. In her memoirs, she stated that she found his acting ‘superb’ and his singing ‘gorgeous’.
It was indeed a memorable performance, not least because of Nilsson’s ‘scream’.
Fortunately, the performance was recorded for radio and was released on CD (Nuova Era 2286/870).
Of the studio recordings, two are very dear to me. On Warner Classics (5665042), Renata Scotto meticulously sings all the notes prescribed by Puccini ( her colleagues are not always as scrupulous) and Renato Bruson is very ‘courteously dangerous’ as Scarpia.
RCA (88697448122) has recorded one of the best Scarpias ever: Sherrill Milnes. I once heard him live in the role and it was a real experience! Leontyne Price is a sultry Tosca.
On DVD, I find the Decca film version (0434909) by far the most impressive. It was shot on location in 1976, which was not very common at the time. Well, location… The Palazzo Farnese was then home to the French Embassy, so filming was not allowed inside.
Milnes was once again present and the lead role was sung in a very tormented way by Raina Kabaivanska.
Domingo is so beautiful it makes you want to cry, but what gives the film that little bit extra is the tiny role of the little shepherd. It is sung by Placido junior, then 10 years old.
Another Puccini role that fits him like a glove is Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. Of this opera with Domingo, there are many recordings, both studio and live. Not all of them are worth listening to and in most cases it is the interpreter of the title role who presents the problem. It is nothing new: when a record company had a new ‘star’, he or she just had to record everything available. With often disastrous results.
In 1970, Domingo sang Des Grieux in Verona, with Magda Olivero in the title role. Quite bizarre when you consider that Olivero made her professional debut eight years before Domingo was born. And yet: her portrayal of the young heroine is utterly convincing. Indeed, most of her colleagues still cannot match it! My copy was released on Foyer, but better quality editions are now available.
In 1980, the opera was broadcast on TV. That recording is now available on DVD. Believe me: there is no better. Scotto sings and acts Manon like no one else has done before, and together with Domingo, she makes us cry with the beauty and the sadness of it all. Menotti’s very realistic, true to life and very exciting direction simply could not be better. A MUST (DG 073424)
Luigi in Il Tabarro was also a role after Domingo’s own heart. His recording from 1968 with the New York City Opera, conducted by Julius Rudel (Melodram 17048) is splendid, with Jeannine Crader as Giorgietta, a wonderful singer who sadly never made it in Europe.
On DVD, there is a fine Zeffirelli production from New York, recorded in 1994. Giorgietta is sung by Teresa Stratas. Unfortunately, it is coupled with Pagliacci with Pavarotti and again with Stratas, in the leading roles. Not really my ‘cup of tea’ (DG0734024).
Below a curiosity: a duet from Il Tabarro with Domingo and Beverly Sills from 1967
I never understood why the opera was so unloved. Musically, it is in line with Verdi, but one can already hear tentative fragments of the ‘real’ Puccini: a vague promise of Manon Lescaut, a study for La Bohème and creative exercises for Turandot.
With Adriana Damato and Marianne Cornetti, we can welcome a new generation of phenomenal singers and Domingo is, as always, very musical and committed.
LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST
For me, the very best is a 1978 DG recording (4748402), with an underrated Carol Neblett as a very fierce Minnie. Domingo is a languorous and surprisingly lyrical Johnson, and Sherrill Milnes sounds like he’s in a real western.
Two worthwhile recordings have appeared on DVD. One with Mara Zampieri and Juan Pons (Opus Arte OA LS3004 D) from La Scala, 1991, in a beautiful, colourful direction by Jonathan Miller.
The other is with Carol Neblett and Silvano Carroli (Kultur Video 2038) from the Royal Opera House, 1982.
There were once plans to make a feature film about Puccini, in which Domingo would play the composer. It did not go ahead. In preparation for the project, Domingo recorded all Puccini’s songs in 1989, under the title Unknown Puccini (Sony 44981).
For the cover, he is made to look like Puccini and there he is: dressed in white, hat on his head and the moustache prominent on his face. Puccini to the life!
Anyway, it is all about the music and it is a must- have for anyone interested in Puccini. Most are first ever recordings and gradually you follow the composer on his path towards his Manon’s, Tosca’s and other ‘girls’. The renowned conductor Julius Rudel accompanies Domingo on piano and organ.
I have never been a ‘Wagnerian’. I could never muster the patience to sit through hours of his operas. I found them bombastic. Pathetic. And even though I had to admit that there were some beautiful melodies, I felt that I really needed a pair of scissors and radically shorten them
That this feeling has totally changed, I owe to Domingo. In my collector’s mania (I had to have everything he had done), I bought the recently released Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.
At first, it was mainly Domingo who was to ‘blame’, whose deeply human interpretation of the title role gave me the goose bumps. His words: “Wie sagst du, Wofram? Bist du denn nicht mein Feind?” (sung with emphasis on ‘mein’ and ‘Feind’ and with a childish question mark at the end of the phrase) caused me to burst into tears.
Later, I learned to appreciate the music for itself and to this day, Tannhäuser is not only a very beloved Wagner opera, but also one of my absolute favourites.
I still consider this recording, conducted very sensually by Giueseppe Sinopoli, to be one of the best ever. Also because all the roles (Cheryl Studer as Elisabeth and Agnes Baltsa as Venus, such wealth!) are excellently cast. At the time, in the eighties and early nineties, this was not necessarily a given.
This recording is particularly dear to me, not only because of Domingo, but also because of Cheryl Studer, at the time perhaps the most beautiful Senta imaginable. Her delightful lyrical soprano with its easy and sensual height is perfect for the role.
The Holländer is sung by Bernd Weikl. A little past his prime, but the role suits him and Peter Seiffert is wonderful as Der Steuerman.
At the time, the Puritans were all up in arms: a Germanic hero performed by a Spanish bel canto singer, and with an accent too – no, that was unacceptable. I can still vividly remember the reviews from those days, written by the renowned music critics (no, I’m not going to mention any names). They not only cried shame, but also knew for sure that his career was about to end, because this was destroying his voice. Well…
Today, almost 40 years later, we know better. Not only is his voice undamaged, but nowadays it is readily admitted that this was a formidable presentation, by one of the best tenors of the last century. His Lohengrin is not only heroic, but loving and warm-blooded, less god, more of a man.
Jessye Norman was the perfect Elsa in those days: young and innocent. And when you know that the conductor is called Solti…. Simply wonderful!
Domingo’s baptism of fire in the role of Lohengrin was in Hamburg in 1968. He was then 27 (!) years old. It was not only his first Wagner, it was also the very first time he sang an opera in German, a language he did not yet master.
Fragments of the performance have been preserved (e.g. Melodram MEL 26510). His voice sounds like a bell, with a lot of bronze and a golden shine. The high notes are high and sung in full. Where can you still experience a Lohengrin like this? So beautiful that it makes you want to cry.
In 2006, Domingo sang his last Parsifal (officially at least). It was recorded live in Vienna by Deutsche Grammophon (DG 4776006). Although he is audibly not a spring chicken anymore, he still manages to be utterly convincing, which is actually also true of Waltraud Meier’s Kundry.
Franz-Josef Selig is a fantastic Gurnemanz. His warm bass with its splendid legato seems created for all the long monologues. Falk Struckmann also is a splendid Amfortas.
It has been said of the conductor Christian Thielemann that he is a worthy successor to Furtwängler, and there is a lot of truth in that. He makes no secret of his predilection for the great German composers and his interpretations of them are rightly praised.
He also shares his capriciousness and wilfulness with his illustrious predecessor. His interpretations are therefore often controversial. I like that, because it forces the listener to listen attentively. In Parsifal, he emphasises the human aspect of the work rather than its mysticism. The truly brilliant orchestra follows closely behind.
In the winter of 2004/2005 the moment had finally come: the crowning glory of Domingo’s long career. Tristan had been on his wish list for a long time and twice it had almost come true (Bayreuth and Vienna), but in the end he dared not go through with it. But he seized the opportunity to record it with both hands.
The result is overwhelming. Nina Stemme sings a young and vulnerable Isolde and René Pape is one of the best Markes I have ever heard. His monologue ‘Tatest du’s wirklich’ is among the most beautiful and moving moments of the opera.
Domingo is a Tristan to fall in love with. He is a man, a human being of flesh and blood, if necessary heroic and strong, but also weak and fragile. He is loyal, but mostly in love, until, finally, death comes for him.
His interpretation bears little resemblance to that of other great Tristans in history. That is not surprising: he is not a heroic tenor. But singing is what matters most to me, and does he sing! Peter Alward (EMI’s outgoing A&R producer and the mastermind behind the recording) in an interview once said, that he would not be surprised if a whole future generation of Wagner tenors committed mass harakiri after listening to Domingo in the role.
Domingo als Siegmund in Washington in 2007.
By now, Domingo pretty much identifies himself with Siegmund (Die Walküre), and it was also his most frequently performed Wagner role. I heard him sing it in London, at the Proms, an experience never to be forgotten.
No. He has never tried Siegfried, at least not on the stage, and it is very unlikely that he will do so in the future, but with Domingo you never know. After all he surprises us every year with at least one new role, no small feat when you turn 80!
On a CD with the title Scenes from the Ring (once EMI 5572422, probably not available anymore) he sings all the great music from both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and he is doing it great. Just listen to ‘Nothung’ or ‘Dass mein Vater nicht ist’, not to mention ‘Brünnhilde! Heilige Braut!’. Can it get any more impressive? What a pleasure to hear him in this role.
De titel betekent zoveel als ‘De gewiekste weduwe’ en het libretto is losjes gebaseerd op een van Goldoni’s toneelstukken. Welke doet er nauwelijks toe, ze verlopen vrijwel allemaal volgens hetzelfde stramien.
I never used to like opera. I loved violin concerts and piano solo works, very early on I learned to appreciate chamber music and when I got a bit older, songs also came my way. But opera? The mere idea that an old, fat lady would try to portray a young girl dying of TB, gave me the giggles. Talk about prejudice!
Until one memorable evening in 1982, when I turned on the TV to watch Carmen. I only did it to please my then boyfriend and then it happened! From that night on, the world was forever changed and my life gained a great love.
For years I cherished this Carmen, although I only had a badly copied but very expensive mc (does anyone remember what it was?). It was later released on various ‘pirate labels’ and finally on DVD (Arthaus Musik 109096).
The most beautiful CD recording, at least to me, is the one with Teresa Berganza under Claudio Abbado (DG 4196362). It was recorded in the studio in 1978, but only after a series of live performances, and it is all the better for that! Ileana Cotrubas (Micaela) and Sherrill Milnes (Escamillo) complete the excellent cast.
Werther was one of the young Domingo’s favourite roles. Unfortunately, little of it has been documented. On 18 December 1977, the opera was recorded by the Bayerische Rundfunk in Munich. This recording has been released on CD (Orfeo C 464 982).
Charlotte was sung by Brigitte Fassbaender, not really a singer one would associate with the role… Well! Allow yourself to be surprised, because what happens here, happens very rarely: drama, passion, love, despair… She and Domingo really bounce from your player.
The cast is finger-licking gorgeous: Mirella Freni is a fragile and sensual Marguerite and Nicolai Ghiaurov a very impressive Méphistophélès. In the small role of Valentin we hear none other than Thomas Allen.
Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila
The other studio recording, this time on DVD (DG 0730599), also has a Dalila that just doesn’t work for me: Olga Borodina. It was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1998. I was there and didn’t like it – and I still don’t like it.
But, I’ll go for the San Francisco recording every time! It was directed by Nicolas Joel and Dalila was sung by the really sexy Shirley Verrett (Arthaus Video 100 202)
The fact that Anna Tomowa-Sintow was one of Karajan’s favourite singers had its advantages and disadvantages. She was a welcome guest in Salzburg and her name appears on many recordings conducted by the maestro. But it also meant that she was primarily rated as a Mozart and Strauss singer, while she had so much more to offer.
Her Desdemona and Amelia were legendary and after her Munich Aida, Leonie Rysanek praised her performance for its pure beauty.
Fassbaender is really surprising and particularly convincing as Amneris. Just listen to what she does with the single word ‘pace’ at the end of the opera. The opera was recorded by Bayeriche Rundfunk on 22 March 1979 and released on Orfeo (C583 022).
Below: Price, Domingo and Milnes in ‘E deggio e posso crederlo?’
Il trovatore was one of Von Karajan’s favorite operas. In 1962 he directed a series of performances in Salzburg, those were taken over by Vienna in 1978 and broadcast on television.
Domingo was a last minute replacement for Franco Bonisolli, who had left the production in a fit of temper. Domingo’s delightful, radiant topnotes in ‘Ah si, ben mio’ earned him an ovation that lasted for many minutes.
Cossotto’s Azucena is now legendary: like no other singer she put her mark on the role (Arthouse Music 107117).
BALLO IN MASCHERA
The Royal Opera House production released by Opus Arte (OA 1236D) dates from early 1975. The sound is a little dull, but you will forget that as soon as you hear the beautiful voices of the singers.
Katia Ricciarelli is one of the most moving Amelias I know. The sound that she produces is perhaps not really ‘Verdian’, and perhaps her voice is a little too light, (she has sadly destroyed her voice by singing this type of role), but the pianissimi that she spins deserve a prize for sheer beauty, and her fragility is palpable.
The kindly anxious, loving, but also playful tenor of the young Placido Domingo fits the role of Gustavo like a glove. Piero Cappuccilli is an excellent Renato and Reri Grist an Oscar such as you do not often hear them anymore. Her performance alone is worth buying the DVD.
Claudio Abbado (how young he was then!) conducts lightly and keeps the tempi sparkling, resulting in an effervescent orchestral sound.
The direction by Otto Schenk is effective. Conventional and yet surprising. And like no other, he exposes the comic aspects of the opera.
Trailer of the production:
Fifteen years later, Domingo is already a seasoned Gustavo. His king is now more mature, more serious too… But although he says he doesn’t believe Ulrica’s predictions, you can still see something like terror in his eyes. It could so easily be true…
This production includes also a more mature Amelia. Now she is not a dreamy girl, but a woman with intense desires. Josephine Barstow certainly lives up to this interpretation. She is a torn Amelia, full of love, sorrow, pain and tears. In ‘Ecco l’orrido campo’, her fear is physically palpable and in ‘Morro’ you think you may die with her. Leo Nucci shines as Renato and Sumi Yo is a light, bouncy Oscar.
The direction lies in the hands of the famous film director John Schlesinger. The end result is devastating: overwhelming, true-to-life sets, beautiful costumes and dazzling mass scenes. The picturesque image is occasionally reminiscent of enormous tableaux-vivants, and the direction of the characters is- as you would expect from a renowned director – phenomenal.
At the opera’s finale, when the dying king gathers his last strength and, gasping for breath, bids farewell to his beloved, his subjects and the fatherland, no one can suspect that with his last ‘addio’ an entire era is also coming to an end.
It would be Herbert von Karajan’s last production in Salzburg. He died just before the premiere in 1989 and was replaced by Solti, who also conducted the revival of the opera in 1990 (Arthaus Musik 109105).
Nicolas Joel © Julien Benhamou / OnP