The Very Best of Placido Domingo
Various songs and arias (see track list at end of review)
Placido Domingo (tenor)
Susan Graham (mezzo); Montserrat Caballé (soprano); Deborah Voigt (soprano); Violeta Urmana (mezzo); David Cangelosi (tenor)
rec. no details supplied. ADD/DDD. Stereo
EMI CLASSICS 6486762 [75:02 + 73:55]

An interesting album which showcases the versatility of this fine singer but only intermittently his ‘very best’. That is I believe to be found in a marriage of his excellent voice and suitable repertoire.

The first CD starts with performances by Domingo in lyrical Mozart roles. The result is exciting and generally well sung with generous tone. That said, the flexibility required is missing at times in 'Un' Aura Amorosa'. The result is good – exceptionally so for a singer with a dramatic bari-tenor voice who usually sings Verdi, Wagner and Verismo composers but Domingo only occasionally sounds ‘right’ for the roles. In Zauberflöte it is a joy to hear the richly vibrant 'spin' he can put on the extended notes.

This is partly to do with style for although Domingo brings his usual smooth and rich qualities with a good deal of elegance (far exceeding typical tenors) he is ‘found out’ in passages which require coloratura flourish. In addition these roles lack the meaty dramatic potential that there is in, say, Idomeneo which he sang to great effect on a DG studio recording with James Levine.

Don Giovanni is much the same with a lot of good points but lacking the vitality of a Waechter or Siepi and simply not sounding his best. His tone which is so rich and welcome in tenor repertoire sounds a bit monochrome and light at the lower baritone pitches. Recorded in 1997, I think he would have greater success today in the lower pitches after forays as Simon Boccanegra and Rigoletto.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare sounds vital and interesting with 'Svegliateri nel core' showing off a fine voice.

‘O paradis’ fares better still – his success is greater with a far more satisfying reconciliation of tone and style. As recently as 1998 he debuted as Jean in Le prophète where his declamation and phrasing were considerable assets. His aria from Le Cid has a wonderful breadth of tone and phrasing that a Caruso would be proud of. This is especially welcome with the lack of brilliant contemporary French tenors. With Faust yet again this is not quite the best role for him as high-lying lyric tenors such as Jussi Björling or Jaume Aragall have easier times hitting the high notes; still, the sound is beautiful. Domingo manages well considering he was the great Werther and Samson of his generation but still, there is a theme developing of an excellent voice not quite in ideal repertoire.

The results are a welcome showcase of how far intelligence and creativity can get you but little so far gives an idea of this singer at his ‘Very Best’. Rather this album shows how good he sounds although he is not naturally a Mozart tenor, a Mozart Bass/Baritone, an expert of early repertoire or a French lyric tenor!

The next selections from Russian repertoire rather miss the mark with a heavyish ‘Kuda, kuda’ – Neil Schicoff is excellent here – and the Tchaikovsky song ‘None but the lonely heart’ which do not show Domingo at his best. In Russian repertoire his Hermann in The Queen of Spades shows how good he can sound but there are no signs of similar success here.

If we were to take this as an album without the ‘Best of’ title there is much to enjoy - I forgive EMI their bias! His role debut in Eugene Onegin was as long ago as 1964 in Tel Aviv so any problems he has lightening his tone are hardly surprising.

With tracks 11 and 12 we heard Domingo in one of his great roles – Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. This may be the lesser of his studio recordings - his DG set with Sinopoli is much better conducted - and not the equal of some live sets, but this recording at least shows him in ‘home territory’ with a marvelous warmth of voice and intensity. Even better are his performances in Tosca - he recorded the role three times in the studio for RCA, EMI and DG respectively - with Cavaradossi probably his finest Puccini role alongside La Fanciulla del West which is also included here. 'Dai campi' is not very poetic but certainly of a good standard. Pavarotti with Fabritiis is possibly the more beautiful performance. Having said that we then move into heavier territory including the rare Nerone which is terrifically impressive and the contribution in Tristan und Isolde which sets a new standard – he was already about sixty by then!

With the start of CD2 and the extracts from Aida, Ballo in Maschera and Forza del Destino little needs to be said other than that this is some of the finest Verdi singing available. Otello deserves a special mention as this was his calling-card at the great theatres of the world. This was an especially moving performance: the great cry 'O gloria' rings out and the voice seems golden.

The arias from operetta are all well sung with the usual problems faced by Italian and Spanish singers trying to sound fluent in German. The results – try the ever-popular 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!' – are good but do not sound authentic.

The zarzuelas are a more interesting bunch with more famous examples such as ‘No puede ser’ and 'En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor' interspersed with other less famous examples. This selection is a deal more effective and interesting than the German selections. It is understandable that those compiling this album would like to include ‘lighter’ fare but the lack of German roles such as Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Parsifal is sad as these were some of the successes of his career – particularly Lohengrin. It would be ideal to have extracts from the Universal catalogue (Decca, DG, Philips) and EMI available on one album.

Fans will know whether or not they need this set. It seems quite a good way to have an eclectic mix of arias in one place. I would still recommend this album for the variety and generosity of tracks included but it is a misnomer to call some of these tracks his ‘Very Best’ work. Though the results are not always exceptional, I have enjoyed this collection.

David Bennett

An interesting album which showcases the versatility of this fine singer but only intermittently his ‘very best’.

Track Listing
CD 1:
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (1787)
1 Il mio tesoro intanto (Act 2) [4:40]
Così fan tutte K588 (1789)
2 Un' aura amorosa (Act 1) [4:70]
Die Zauberflöte K620 (1791)
3 Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön 3:47
Don Giovanni (1787)
4 Là ci darem la mano [3:12]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare (1724)
5 Vani sono i lamenti ... Svegliatevi nel core (Act 1) [4:52]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
L'Africaine (1865)
6 Pays merveilleux...O paradis (Act 4) [3:40]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (1859)
7 Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre! ... Salut! Demeure chaste et pure [5:26]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Le Cid (1885)
8 O souverain, ô juge, ô père [4:48]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
6 Songs Op. 6
9 None but the lonely heart [3:14]
Eugene Onegin (1879)
10 Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis [6:13]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Manon Lescaut (1893)
11 Donna non vidi mai [2:25]
12 Ah! Manon, mi tradisce [2:37]
Tosca (1900)
13 Dammi i colori....Recondita armonia [2:55]
14 E lucevan le stelle [3:10]
La Fanciulla del West (1910)
15 Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano [2:00]
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
Mefistofele (1868)
16 Dai campi, dai prati [2:25]
Nerone (1924)
17 Vergini Muse ... Quando al soave anelito [3:15]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde (1865)
18 O sink hernieder, nacht der Liebe [5:41]
Siegfried (1876)
19 Was am besten er kann.....Ho-ho! Ho-hei! Schmiede, mein Hammer, ein hartes Schwert! [6:20]

CD 2
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871)
1 Se quel guerrier io fossi! ... Celeste Aida [4:21]
Un Ballo in Maschera (1859)
2 Su, profetessa ... Di' tu se fedele [4:40]
3 Forse la soglia attinse...Ma se m' è forza perderti [5:13]
La Forza del Destino (1862)
4 O tu che in seno agli angeli [3:19]
Don Carlo (1867)
5 Su, cacciator...Fontainebleau!...Io la vidi [5:45]
Otello (1887)
6 Niun mi tema [5:37]
Johan STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883)
7 Ach, wie so herrlich zu schau'n [3:31]
Carl ZELLER (1842-1898)
Der Vogelhändler, '(The) Bird Catcher' (1891)
8 Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol [3:90]
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Paganini (1925)
9 Gern hab' ich die Frauen geküsst [3:27]
Die lustige Witwe (1905)
10 Da geh ich zu Maxim [2:19]
Das Land des Lächelns (1923)
11 Dein ist mein ganzes Herz! [3:42]
Jacinto GUERRERO (1895-1951)
Los Gavilanes
12 Mi aldea [3:45]
La Rosa del azafrán
13 Cancion del Sembrador [4:07]
Pablo SOROZABAL (1897-1988)
La Tabernera del puerto
14 No puede ser [2:44]
Francisco ALONSO (1887-1948)
Coplas de Ronda
15 Serenata 'Bella ninña de ojos negros' [3:28]
Joaquin RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Three Villancicos
16 Copillas De Belen [1:27]
17 Coplas Del Pastor Enamorado [3:47]
18 En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor [2:48]
Jacob GADE (1879-1963)
19 Jealousy Tango [2:46]
Trad. arr. JOJIC & BENCKER
20 La Golondrina [3:07]
Placido Domingo, Tenor, [All Tracks]
Susan Graham, Mezzo [CD 1,Track 4]
Montserrat Caballé, Soprano [CD 1, Track 12]
Deborah Voigt, Soprano [CD 1, Track 18]
Violeta Urmana, Mezzo [CD 1, Track 18]
David Cangelosi, Tenor [CD 1, Track 19]