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Placido Domingo: Great Scenes
Johann STRAUSS (1825 – 1899) Die Fledermaus: Celeste Aida
Josef Meinrad (tenor) – Frosch
Conductor: Placido Domingo
Directors: Leopold Lindtberg and Richard Gregson
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, December 1983
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Ernani: Dell’esiglio nel dolore; A te, scegli, seguimi
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Ernani; Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass) – Silva
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Director: Luca Ronconi
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, December 1982
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) Manon Lescaut: Mi tradisce il tuo folle pensier; Ah, non vi avvicinate; Vedi, vedi, son io che piango
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Des Grieux; Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) – Manon Lescaut
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli
Director: Götz Friedrich
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, May 1983
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880) Les contes d’Hoffmann: Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach!; Ils se sont éloignés enfin!
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Hoffmann; Robert Tear (tenor) – Spalanzani; Claire Powell (mezzo) – Nicklaus
Conductor: Georges Prêtre
Director: John Schlesinger
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, January 1981
Giacomo PUCCINI La fanciulla del West: Una parola sola!; Ch’ella mi creda
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Dick Johnson; Carol Neblett (soprano) – Minnie; Silvano Carroli (baritone) – Jack Rance
Conductor: Nello Santi
Director: Piero Faggioni
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, November 1982
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948) Andrea Chénier: Si, fu soldato; Come un bel di di maggio; Vicino a te
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Andrea Chénier; Anna Tomowa-Sintow (soprano) – Maddalena
Conductor: Julius Rudel
Director: Michael Hampe
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, May 1985
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50-51011-2771-2-2 DVD [57:00]

These are snippets from five performances recorded more than twenty years ago at a time when Placido Domingo was at the height of his powers. Actually he stayed at that height for a very long time and hearing an excerpt from his new Parsifal a few days ago confirmed that he has retained them to this very day, even though it can’t be denied that he is a bit below what he sounded like during his real hey-day. And the late 1970s and early 1980s found him in a happy equilibrium between the youthful glory of his early voice and the added power and deepened insights that only experience can provide. And isn’t there a suspicion of some drying out of the tone in the Andrea Chénier excerpts, which are the most recent ones? Is it my imagination? It may be just a less happy day and anyway the difference is so small that only the immediate juxtaposition of two scenes recorded three years apart reveals the difference. The pleasure of hearing as well as seeing him is never for a second diminished. Besides the glorious tone, the musical phrasing and the whole-hearted intensity in the singing his deep identification and his physical acting makes this DVD irresistible. There is no denying that Domingo was one of the greatest singing actors of his day, and probably any other day, something that he of course got credit for during his heyday but which becomes even more obvious now that he is approaching the end of a remarkable singing career.
His Ernani is near perfect, by turns lyrical and glowingly heroic. He is almost in the Björling class as Des Grieux. He is a tragi-comic Hoffmann, maybe lacking the last ounce of French elegance. A reviewer wrote of the by now legendary Bonynge recording that Domingo’s Hoffmann was probably a beer-drinker while Nicolai Gedda’s preferred wine. His Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West is also outstanding.
We also get glimpses of some other great singers who here function more as cameos. A noble Nicolai Ghiaurov as Silva in Ernani, from La Scala with lavish sets; Kiri Te Kanawa acts convincingly as Manon Lescaut; Robert Tear is of course ideally oily as Spalanzani but the real treat in the Hoffmann excerpts is Luciana Serra’s Olympia with a doll’s face of wax, mechanical movements and otherworldly, perfectly pitched Oui, Oui! A short sequence with Carole Neblett from La fanciulla del West, reminds us of a good soprano whose career never turned her into one of the greats but her studio recording of La fanciulla, with Domingo, and Korngold’s Die tote Stadt are excellent proof of what she accomplished at her best. Silvano Carroli, for many years a mainstay at the Arena di Verona, is appropriately villainous as Jack Rance and there are also a couple of glimpses of Anna Tomowa-Sintow in the Chénier excerpts.
But of course it is Domingo who is centre-stage in more than one respect on this issue and the only frustrating thing about it is that just when one has become involved in a scene it is over and either the curtain is down or there is a quick fade-out. So the best use of this DVD is, as I wrote of a companion set with mixed contents from Covent Garden, to get it as an appetizer. Then buy the complete sets those that seem most attractive - most of them do - and give this sampler away to some aspiring opera-lover from a younger generation.
The technical quality varies a bit but it is never less than fully acceptable and we also get a bonus track, which here is placed first: a short sequence from Die Fledermaus, conducted by Domingo, where Frosch tries to sing Celeste Aida and is backed up by the conductor, with whom he ends up singing a few bars from the aria in duet. Very entertaining as is the whole Fledermaus, which I haven’t seen for quite some time. Even though the hour is late when I write this I think I will treat myself to at least the first act before I go to sleep.
Let me just end the review by saying that this Domingo compilation is definitely worth a visit to the nearest DVD store.
Göran Forsling


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Editor's Note - the DVD reviewed above is not available through AmazonUS. The link is to what appears to be the same recording through a different label (Kultur Video) in NTSC format, with different cover images and a slightly earlier release date.

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