Placido Domingo - My Greatest Roles Vol. 3

Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
Elena Obraztsova (mezzo) – Carmen; Placido Domingo (tenor) – Don José; Yuri Mazurok (baritone) – Escamillo; Isobel Buchanan (soprano) – Micaëla; Cheryl Kanfoush (soprano) – Frasquita; Axelle Gall (soprano) – Mercédès; Kurt Rydl (bass) – Zuniga; Hans Helm (baritone) – Morales; Heinz Zednik (tenor) – Remendado; Paul Wolfram (baritone) – Dancaïre
Orchestra and Choir of the Vienna State Opera/Carlos Kleiber
Director for stage and TV: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designer: Leo Bei
Lighting Designer: Robert Stangl
rec. Vienna State Opera, December 1978
NTSC 4:3; Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo [153:00]

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Samson et Dalila
Placido Domingo (tenor) – Samson; Shirley Verrett (mezzo) – Dalila; Wolfgang Brendel (baritone) – High Priest of Dagon; Arnold Voketatis (bass) – Abimelech; Kevin Langan (bass) – Old Hebrew; Michael Ballam (tenor) – First Philistine; Stanley Wexler (bass) – Second Philistine; Robert Tate (tenor) – Messenger; Christian Holder (dancer)
Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera/Julius Rudel
Director: Nicolas Joel
Set Designer: Douglas Schmidt
Costume Designer: Carrie Robbins
Directed for video by Kirk Browning
rec. San Francisco Opera, 1981
NTSC 4:3; L-PCM Stereo [116:00]

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Robert Lloyd (bass) – Lindorf; Paul Crook (tenor) – Andrès; Cochenille; Eric Garrett (bass) – Luther; John Rawnsley (baritone) – Hermann; Robin Leggate (tenor) – Nathanael; Placido Domingo (tenor) – Hoffmann; Claire Powell (mezzo) – Nicklaus; The Muse of Poetry; Robert Tear (tenor) – Spalanzani; Luciana Serra (soprano) – Olympia; Geraint Evans (baritone) – Coppélius; Agnes Baltsa (mezzo) – Giulietta; Francis Egerton (tenor) – Pittichinaccio; Philip Gelling (bass) – Schlemil; Siegmund Nimsbern (bass-baritone) – Dapertutto; Ileana Cotrubas (soprano) – Antonia; Gwynne Howell (bass) – Crespel; Bernard Dickerson (tenor) – Frantz; Nicola Ghiuselev (bass) – Miracle; Phyllis Cannan (soprano) – Spirit of Antonia’s Mother; Deanne Bergsma (soprano) – Stella
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House/Georges Prêtre
Producer: John Schlesinger
Scenery: William Dudley
Costumes: Maria Björnson
Stage Lighting: David Hersey
Directed for video by Brian Large
rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, December 1980
NTSC 4:3; Dolby 2.0 Stereo [150:00]
Bonus Interviews
NTSC 16:9; L-PCM Stereo [59:00]
WARNER CLASSICS 50-52498-1411-2-8 [4 DVDs: 153:00 + 116:00 + 150:00 + 59:00]

“My Greatest Roles” the front cover of the box, and this is no mere hype – as long as we cautiously add “in French repertoire”. No one, not even Placido Domingo, humble as always, can possibly exclude Otello and Cavaradossi from his greatest moments and among his 130+ roles there may be others as well that come to mind. But these three performances, filmed when Domingo was at the height of his powers some thirty years ago, are marvellous documents and what makes them so attractive is that they are far from one-man-shows. In all three cases the casts are generally on the highest possible level.

The Zeffirelli production of Carmen from the Vienna State Opera is quite possibly the most lavish version ever. I reviewed it enthusiastically in another box a couple of years ago and refer readers to that review, where I concluded that this ‘phenomenal Carmen should be in every opera collection’.

The San Francisco production of Samson et Dalila is also well worth anyone’s money. Sets and costumes are traditional but beautiful and inoffensive and my only complaint is that I would have liked to see more of the full stage picture. Close-ups are essential to get under the skin of the actors but one also needs to get the atmosphere surrounding them. Julius Rudel’s conducting is a bit hard-driven, which may be due to his wish to heighten the tension. This opera has sometimes been regarded more as an oratorio than an opera. But speeding things up does not necessarily make it more dramatic and one loses some of the beauty of the music. There is also some less than first-class choral singing – and the choruses are important in Samson et Dalila.

But the solo singing is a different matter. Shirley Verrett’s assumption of the role of Dalila can stand comparison with all the great mezzo-sopranos who have sung it in the past. Maybe it was at this phase of her career a mite too low for her. She was then also singing soprano roles. But this is a glorious reading and, being an excellent actress as well, she creates a fascinating, seductive portrait that corresponds to her Italian nick-name ‘La Nera Callas’ (The Black Callas). Among her many successful recordings – notably the Giulini-conducted Don Carlo (EMI) and Abbado’s Macbeth (DG) – this Dalila now occupies a revered place alongside those in my collection.

In both those mentioned recordings the leading tenor role was sung by Placido Domingo. His Samson was rightly praised and he recorded it twice on LP/CD; there is also a much later DVD available. His is as strong and potent a reading as his Don José: glowing tone and lively acting. His French has sometimes been criticised but to my ears it is fully acceptable. Wolfgang Brendel’s high priest is dramatic and sonorous and the supporting cast is good.

The Covent Garden production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann is another treat for both eyes and ears. It is lavish - almost over the top. Very realistic sets also here and anyone with a liking for the spectacular will find it irresistible. The star-studded cast with great names down to even the tiniest roles is on top form and Georges Prêtre, who can be uneven in opera, is inspired. A lifelike Jacques Offenbach is present from the beginning in the shape of Robert Lloyd as Lindorf, magnificent and black-voiced.

Domingo is excellent in the title role and few tenors have surpassed him in the Kleinzack aria. This is another role that has followed him through the years. One of his first complete recordings – and his first for Decca – was with Joan Sutherland in the female roles and Gabriel Bacquier taking all the villains, Bonynge conducting. This is still the most recommendable set on CD. His later attempt, for DG under Ozawa, is less of a treat. Domingo is still magnificent though in slightly less sappy voice, and Edita Gruberova sings the soprano characters with flair, but some of the supporting roles are less than first class. Here, though, everything is in order. Geraint Evans, Siegmund Nimsgern and Nicola Ghiuselev are impressive evil characters, Luciana Serra is a stunning Olympia, Agnes Baltsa’s Giulietta superb and, most touching of all, Ileana Cotrubas’s vulnerable Antonia. And with such superb singing actors as Robert Tear as Spalanzani, John Rawnsley as Hermann, Gwynne Howell as Crespel and Claire Powell as Nicklaus, to mention just a few others, the standard is continuously high throughout. This Hoffmann is no doubt in the same class as Zeffirelli’s Carmen and with a Samson to match – in spite of some reservations – this box should be an obligatory purchase for all lovers of French opera.

The bonus disc with interviews with Domingo is a valuable addition, giving us an opportunity to get closer to the person Placido Domingo, as opposed to the artist.

Göran Forsling

“My Greatest Roles” says this box, and this is no mere hype.