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Placido Domingo in Concert - Placido Grandissimo
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: Overture (1), C’est toi (2)
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Porgy and Bess: Summertime (3)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca: E lucevano le stelle (4)
Le Rondine: Il bel sogno di Doretta (5)
Manuel PENELLA (1880-1939)
Il Gato Montés: Duet (6)
Pablo SOROZABAL (1897-1988)
La Tabernera del Puerto: No puede ser (7)
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Asturias (8)
Marian BEIGBEDER/Manuel ALEJANDRO (b.1933)
Canción para una Reina (9)
El Grito de América (10)
Placido Domingo (tenor) (2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10), Julia Migenes (soprano) (2, 3, 5), Guadalupe Sanchez (soprano) (6), Ernesto Bitetti (guitar) (8, 10), National Symphonic Orchestra of Spain (1-7, 9-10)/Eugene Kohn (1-7), Manuel Alejandro (9-10)
rec. live at World Expo Opening 1992, Seville, Spain
Includes Video Special: Composer Documentary
CASCADE 82002 [DVD: c.60:00  + Video Extra c.35:00]
Experience Classicsonline

 

In spite of the international event, there’s a rather provincial air to this. This image itself is fuzzier than you would expect for a recording filmed within the digital era, more like a third-generation VHS copy that has circulated freebootingly among friends or a recording made from the television. The orchestra has a raggedly homespun sound. It does not help that a young American has been brought across the Atlantic to demonstrate what Stravinsky called the “windmill school of conducting” – and its inherent disadvantages. Though we are offered a language menu this only means that Maestro Kohn will be described as a “conductor” rather than a “dirigent” or whatever on the written titles. Domingo acts as compère and don’t imagine anyone’s going to translate what he says for you. I think he’s actually fairly brief and to the point – as efficient in this role as in that of a singer, really – but it seems quite long if you can only pick out a word or two here and there. The occasional shots of the public show a vast open-air arena stretching back into the night, but we mostly see just the stage, unambitiously simple and with a makeshift backdrop illustrating “Carmen”. Domingo looks relaxed and somehow the impression is that of the great tenor taking a rest from international stress, having a nice evening on home territory among friends.

First among friends is Julia Migenes. While Domingo is basically a singer, she is a singing actress. That is to say, in the duet from “Carmen” which is the first sung item, his singing is excellent, his manner dignified and authoritative. Admirable, musicianly as he is, he doesn’t make your scalp tingle. Migenes possibly sings less well. The blasting chest tones may have their place in a raunchy Carmen but later on they don’t quite suit Puccini. But she does convey emotional involvement. Each rather shows up what the other can’t do.

Her concept of “Summertime” is pure opera, good in its way. In spite of the above remark, her upper notes in the high tessitura of the Puccini are confident and convey a sensuality completely lacking from the Kiri Te Kanawa version that circulates on all-too-many home videos as a maudlin accompaniment to the scene among the violets in “A Room with a View”. One cynically wonders if the choice of a lesser-known Puccini aria to follow “E lucevan le stelle” – more excellent singing but so little involved as to sound positively stoic – was not deliberate. It certainly ensures that Migenes gets applause that is warm but which does not exceed that earned by the great tenor, as might have happened had she essayed “Un bel dì vedremo” or “Vissi d’arte”.

Another soprano is brought in for the duet from “Il Gato Montes”. She’s OK but nothing special. After this Domingo sings one of the few zarzuela arias that is reasonably well-known. A guitar solo sounds a bit small in this context but Ernesto Bitetto finds considerable range of colour in “Asturias” and is received politely.

And finally a composer of light music, Manuel Alejandro, appears on the podium to conduct Domingo in a couple of his compositions – the second of which is repeated as an encore. As a conductor he limits himself to beating time with small gestures and no baton, but the orchestra, liberated from the yoke of the flailing windmill that led the classical part of the evening, respond gratefully with better rhythm and precision than previously. Domingo is as ever the practised professional. Maybe these agreeable songs really need a different sort of voice altogether. The words, by the way, are by one of Alejandro’s daughters. Given the Spanish habit of having half-a-dozen names, Manuel Alejandro is actually a user-friendly foreshortening of Manuel Alejandro Alvarez Beigbeder Perez, his father having been Germán Alvarez Beigbeder (1882-1968), a “serious” composer still remembered in Spain.

We also get a “composer documentary” as a “video special”. The cover – there is no insert at all – doesn’t reveal which composer it will be. Maybe, like the jokes in a Christmas cracker, it’s a different one in each copy. Mine was Puccini. If you don’t know the story of Puccini’s life and works it’s a fair introduction. For illustration you get the cities Puccini frequented in their modern (1998) form, Lucca in particular appearing as a giant car park with some lovely historical buildings scattered between the Fiats. Plus plenty of politically incorrect drawings, photos and statues of Puccini with a fag in his mouth – it was difficult if not impossible to catch him without except, maybe, during his final unsuccessful operation for throat cancer. The English narrator speaks clearly and adopts a good straightforward tone. But, if you’ve got a text to read larded with Italian names, you’d find out how to pronounce them properly, wouldn’t you? Well, he wouldn’t. Just to give one, since it crops up all the time, Puccini’s first name should be pronounced “Jackemo” not “Gee-ackemo” which you only say if your horse is called “Ackemo”. Since Puccini is universally known as an opera composer, an original touch was to have the narration accompanied – too loudly – by a string quartet. I suppose they are playing “Crisantemi” – I don’t know the piece so cannot say. Or, since the music doesn’t sound all that much like Puccini, perhaps I’m underestimating their originality in playing something not by him at all. We’re told at the end who plays but not what they play.

Really, this is essentially a television event. Something you’d be glad enough to see once, over dinner – especially if there’s football or a soap opera on the other channels – but even Domingo’s greatest fans would surely feel that once through is enough.

Christopher Howell

 


 


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