The Placido Domingo Story
Various arias and songs (full track-list ate end of review)
Placido Domingo (tenor/baritone)
various orchestras and soloists, incl. Tatiana Troyanos, Sergei Leiferkus and Lang Lang
Biographical notes but no sung texts in the lavishly illustrated hardback book, which also includes an illustrated discography
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 9333 [3 CDs: 68:40 + 67:23 + 66:40]
On 21 January 2011 Placido Domingo turned seventy and he was hailed and celebrated around the world. Having recorded extensively for most of the big companies there was a rich treasure trove to choose from for various retrospective discs and boxes. Deutsche Grammophon, with whom he was closely associated very early on, probably has the most comprehensive catalogue and the Decca and Philips inventories were also available. There was a jumbo box with his ‘best’ complete operas and people can safely invest in it and acquire at relatively modest cost standard operas in recordings that in most cases can stand comparison with the finest offerings from competing companies. Those who prefer bits and pieces can without qualms buy the 3 CD set here under review.
Having collected Domingo recordings for more than forty years I was familiar with the majority of these arias and songs and re-acquaintance with them was uplifting. The first two discs follow his operatic recording career chronologically, from his debut LP, issued in 1968 by Telefunken, as it was then. I remember finding a sampler LP from that company with many of my old favourite singers like Herrmann Prey and Anneliese Rothenberger. Among them was a young good-looking guy, holding a sword in front of him and dressed as Radames, the male hero in Aida. When I put down the needle and started listening, leisurely slumped back in my worn armchair, a marvellous voice flowed out of my loudspeakers, singing with such beauty and intensity that I had to sit upright and just inhale the sounds. The LP-cover told me his name was Placido Domingo. I’ll remember that name, I recall thinking. He might be something! And he certainly was – and is. With more than 3,500 opera performances of more than 130 roles he must be one of the busiest singers ever. Add to this his conducting activities, and, just incidentally he is director of two American opera houses and runs his Operalia competition. In the midst of this he has also found time to record probably more than any other singer, Fischer-Dieskau and Gedda possibly excepted. This compilation can, for obvious reasons, only cover a fraction of what he has done in the recording studio, but it is a good and representative fraction and most of his signature roles are here.
CD 1 finds him at his freshest with sappy voice and easy high notes. He is truly impressive in the aria from Oberon, which was his first recording with Deutsche Grammophon in 1970. This was also the only time he recorded – under studio conditions – with Birgit Nilsson. Almost forty years later he was the first to receive the Birgit Nilsson Prize. His German has been criticized but as compensation he invests the singing with a Mediterranean glow and roundness of tone that few German tenors have been able to muster. The Don Carlo excerpt is neither from the classic Giulini set (EMI) nor the DG traversal under Abbado (which is in French) but a previously unreleased recording from Vienna’s Sofiensaal under Karajan, made in 1975. One can wonder why it has been tucked away in the DG archives for so long. The Flower Song from Carmen is sung in his usual heart-on-sleeve manner – Don José was one of his favourite roles. This is from the Decca recording under Solti. I prefer the DG version with Abbado, made a few years later, but the Solti is excellent and as a bonus we also get the heated duet that follows, with Tatiana Troyanos a dark-hued Carmen.
His Walther von Stolzing in Wagner’s Meistersinger is another gem. Only Sandor Konya has surpassed him among modern singers, and that only with by hair’s breadth. The Aida aria is from a 1981 recital with Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and while it can’t erase my early memory of the Telefunken recording it is still among the best. The Pagliacci and Cavalleria arias are from Philips soundtracks for Zeffirelli’s TV-productions of the operas with Georges Prêtre conducting.
On CD 2 the Graal narration from Lohengrin is again only surpassed by Sandor Konya and the Rome epsiode from Tannhäuser is impressive – with a Latin tinge. This Tannhäuser wasn’t unaffected by his visit to Rome! Rodolfo’s aria from Luisa Miller is a live recording from Paris in 1988 with Maazel conducting. Here Domingo shows his detractors, who state that he sings everything mezzo-forte, that he can spin a magic pianissimo filament of tone. Listen to the end of the aria! Cavaradossi’s Recondita armonia, well sung as always – this is the role that Domingo has sung most frequently – is not faded out after the tenor’s last phrase but lets us hear the Sacristan’s final mutterings as well, which brings the scene to a more satisfying end.
The aria from L’Africaine is another live recording, this time from Florence 1990 with Zubin Mehta in the pit. The longest excerpt in this box is the scene from Die Frau ohne Schatten, which begins with an orchestral interlude that is one of Strauss’s most beautiful melodies. The singing is heroic and utterly satisfying and there are few or no signs of an ageing singer. He was already fifty when this recording was made.
There has been quite a stir about his taking on baritone roles lately, first Simon Boccanegra and then Rigoletto, but as early as 1991 he sang Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia and this barber is a real charmer!
A retrospective without at least something from Otello was inconceivable and here we get two chunks. In company with Mario Del Monaco – whose recording of the opera with Karajan is still in the front rank – and Giuseppe Giacomini – whose complete recording I haven’t heard but I have heard him in the flesh – Domingo has also been the supreme exponent of this role. There is a special thrill to hear Sergei Leiferkus’ sinister and oily Iago as well.
Mozart’s Idomeneo was a fairly late addition to Domingo’s list of complete roles, but he recorded a full CD with Mozart arias for EMI several years earlier and though not the most idiomatic of Mozart singers he has his own way with the music that is brilliant and vital.
On the three final tracks from the last few years he can’t quite conceal that he is approaching seventy but the voice is still miraculously well preserved, and the little song by Leoncavallo, sensitively accompanied by Lang Lang, is scaled down to a lovely pianissimo.
On CD 3 we get a hotch-potch of various popular songs: Spanish and Italian, a couple by Carlos Gardel, but also Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, live from Florence, Hosanna from Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, composed for and premiered by Domingo, and Franck’s Panis angelicus, which he sang at the funeral mass of Ted Kennedy in Boston in 2009. There are also two compositions by his son Placido Domingo Jr and, going back to his roots, several arias from zarzuelas, that Spanish brand of operetta. Both his parents were zarzuela singers and Placido was steeped in their tradition.
This box presents a wide-ranging portrait of an exceptional and multi-talented musician. It should be an ideal gift to someone who has just started to get an interest in opera, but in fact to anyone who admires strong, beautiful and well-focused singing of – mostly – standard repertoire. Browsing through the discography one soon realizes that one needs to rob a bank to afford buying his complete recorded oeuvre – and then there is just as much in the EMI and Sony catalogues.
This is a wide-ranging portrait of this multi-talented musician. It should be an ideal gift to someone who has just started to get an interest in opera, but in fact to anyone with an interest in strong, beautiful and well-focused singing.
CD 1 [68:40]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
1. Amor ti vieta [2:12]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 – 1826)
2. Vater! Hör mivh fleh’n zu dir! [3:43]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
3. La mia letizia infondere ... Come poteva un angelo [6:45]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
4. Il etait une fois à la cour d’Eisenach [5:30]
5. Io l’ho perduta! ... Io la vidi e al suo sorriso [3:35]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
6. La fleur que tu m’avais jetée ... Non! Tu ne m’aimes pas! [8:13]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
7. Morgenlich leuchtend [7:39]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
Samson et Dalila
8. Arrêtez, ô mes frères [6:15]
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912)
9. Toute mon âme est la! ... N’achevez pas! [4:56]
10. La donna è mobile [3:10]
11. Se quel guerrier io fossi ... Celeste Aïda [5:02]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
12. Nessun dorma [3:25]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 – 1919)
13. Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba [3:28]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
14. O Lola ch’ai di latti la cammisa [4:45]
CD 2 [67:23]
1. Di quella pira [3:43]
2. In fernem Land [6:33]
3. Quando le sere placido [3:44]
4. Inbrunst im Herzen [8:46]
5. Dammi i colori ... Recondita armonia [4:00]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791 – 1864)
6. Pays merveilleux ... ô paradis [3:13]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Die Frau ohne Schatten
7. Orchestral interlude ... Falke, Falke, du wiedergefundener [13:09]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia
8. Largo al faktotum [4:47]
9. Esultate! L’orgoglio musulmano [2:14]
10. Dio! mi potevi scagliar tutti i mali ... Cassio è la! [4:00]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
11. Fuor del mar ho un mar in seno [5:04]
12. Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo [3:09]
13. No, de l’antica Grecia [2:02]
14. C’è nei tuo sguardo [2:09]
CD 3 [66:40]
Agustin LARA (1897 – 1970)
1. Granada [3:54]
Ernesto de CURTIS (1875 – 1937)
2. Non ti scordar di me [3:12]
Carlos GARDEL (1890 – 1935)
3. Mi Buenos Aires querido [3:26]
4. El dia que me quieras [3:44]
Andrew LLOYD WEBBER (b. 1948)
5. Hosanna [4:54]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948)
Das Land des Lächelns
6. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz [3:36]
Manuel PENELLA (1880 – 1939)
El gato montés
7. Hasta quándo? [4:56]
8. Señó, q’e no me farte er való [1:23]
Reveriano SOUTULLO (1884 – 1932) Juan VERT (1890 – 1931)
La del solo del parral
9. Ya mis horas felices [5:06]
César FRANCK (1822 – 1890)
Messe à trois voix
10. Panis angelicus [3:40]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860 – 1909)
11. Love moves by night! [3:32]
Placido DOMINGO Jr (b. 1965)
12. Quarant’anni [3:51]
Salvatore CARDILLO (1874 – 1947)
13. Catari’, Catari’ (Core ‘ngrato) [5:05]
Federico Moreno TORROBA (1891 – 1982)
14. Romanza de Vidal [4:33]
Juan Mostazo MORALES (1903 – 1938)
15. Falsa moneda [3:55]
Placido DOMINGO Jr
16. La coscienza [3:25]
Francisco ALONSO (1887 – 1947)
17. Agua que rio abajo marchó [3:21]