The Best of Plácido Domingo
rec. 1968-2015 SONY CLASSICAL 88875 123122 [4 CDs: 310:36]
To celebrate Plácido Domingo’s 75th birthday in 2016, Sony Classical has released this "The Best of Plácido Domingo" album. Domingo is heard here in his wide-ranging repertoire encompassing opera, musicals, folk, pop and cross-over, Christmas and other sacred music. Add to this a selection of popular Spanish and Latin-American tunes recalling the singer’s early days in Spain and Mexico. It spans a recorded legacy from 1968 to 2015.
CD 1 is dedicated to operatic arias by Verdi and Puccini. By Domingo’s own admission, the role of Duke of Mantua from Rigoletto lies too high for him. Domingo only sang it on stage 12 times. Two arias from Rigoletto, recorded in 1971 and 1972, open the disc. The cadenza in La donna è mobile sounds a bit strained, while Ella mi fu rapita! … Parmi veder le lagrime, though sung with a hint of baritonal colour, fares a bit better. Two excerpts from a 1973 La Bohème follow. Domingo hits the high C in Che gelida manina gloriously, though seems not to be held as long as tenors can do. O soave fanciulla is also sung in the original key. Partnered with Montserrat Caballé, Domingo doesn’t take the interpolated high C at the end. The recording of Celeste Aida is from 1970. Domingo sings with a good sense of line, without inserting an extra note that anticipates the second beat. The final B flat is sung gloriously in full voice, instead of the pp Verdi specified — which most tenors cannot/would not sing in any case. Two extracts from a 1969 recording of Il Trovatore follow. Domingo once said that Manrico would have been a perfect role for him, if not for the interpolated high Cs in Di quella pira. Here, Ah sì, ben mio is well sung and Domingo makes a passable attempt at the pair of trills. Di quella pira is sung with brio as well as sensitivity, with Domingo observing the piano marking in the minor-keyed section that many tenors ignore. The two high Cs are solid, with no hint of strain, far superior to his re-make with Giulini some twenty years later. Puccini returns with a 1972 Recondita armonia from Tosca. The tessitura is comfortable for Domingo and he gives an excellent performance. Similarly well sung is Non piangere, Liù from Turandot, Di’ tu se fedele from Un ballo in maschera and De’ miei bollenti spiriti from La traviata, all recorded in 1972. E lucevan le stelle from the same year receives a stellar performance. One really gets the impression that he is singing as if this is the last day of his life. Renata Scotto partners Domingo in Madama Butterfly’s Vogliatemi bene … Bimba dagli occhi. Domingo’s singing is ardent, and he sings the original ending instead of the interpolated version. Coming up next is this album’s only example of Domingo as a baritone. I am glad Sony hadn’t included more tracks like Di Provenza il mar, il suol from La traviata, because he has neither the weight of tone nor the low notes of a real operatic baritone, as demonstrated in this 2012 recording. Back to tenor territories with an undated Nessun dorma, quite possibly taken from a live concert in a large venue. This shows Domingo a bit insecure in his ascent to the high B. Quando le sere al placido from Luisa Miller, from 1968, shows the tenor in top form. Sherrill Milnes partners Domingo in the duet Dio, che nell’alma infondere from Don Carlo, and disc 1 concludes with a 1978 recording of Otello’s Niun mi tema.
CD 2 features operatic arias by composers other than Verdi and Puccini. Again, selections from the early 1970s dominate. Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci opens the disc, followed by Lamento di Federico from Cilea’s L’arlesiana, where Domingo sings a solid interpolated high B at the end. The Flower Song from Bizet’s Carmen, recorded one year later in 1972, sounds more Italianate than French, and the soft ending is not observed. Flotow’s M’appari tutt’amor from Martha is also given a full-throated rendition. In fernem Land from Wagner’s Lohengrin, one of the items from 1968, is given a musically sensitive performance. Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton, from Die Zauberflöte, from 1985 and apparently sung and conducted by Domingo, doesn’t come off well. I wonder if the distraction of having to multi-task is to blame. Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni fares much better, the melismatic passages sung very well for a tenor voice of Domingo’s size. Domingo’s voice sounds a size too big for Una furtive lagrima and half a size too small for Un di all’azzurro spazio from Andrea Chénier, and the high notes in Werther’s Pourquoi me réveiller? sound a bit strained. Domingo never recorded the complete Manon by Massenet, and only sang it twice in 1969. Je suis seul! … A! fuyez, douce image is, by Domingo’s own admission, very high and was always a challenge for him; it shows in this 1971 recording. Domingo’s 1972 recording of Salut! Demeure chaste et pure from Gounod’s Faust is not as secure in intonation as the other selections on CD 2, although he does sing the aria in its original key and hits the high C well. The 1971 recording of O paradiso from L’Africaine is sung in Italian and preceded Domingo’s first staged performance of the role by a year. The ascent to the final high B flat is not effortless, but otherwise the aria is well sung. Domingo only sang Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette once in his career, in a run of six performances at the Met in 1974. This recording of Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! preceded that run by two years. Domingo sang Eugene Onegin very early on while he was in Israel, and this recording of Lensky’s Aria, from 1968, actually came three years after he last sang the role on stage. Domingo took Cavalleria rusticana to stage 102 times and also made a filmed version. He is partnered by an unnamed soprano in this well sung 1978 recording of Mama! Quel vino è generoso. Domingo championed Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles very early in his career, in 1964. CD 2 concludes with a 1970 recording of the ever-popular Au fond du temple saint with Sherrill Milnes.
CD 3 contains some songs from the album Perhaps Love with John Denver, some by Domingo’s son Plácido Domingo Jr., various quasi-sacred numbers (Gounod’s Ave Maria, Ombra mai fu from Serse, Bizet’s Agnus Dei and Franck’s Panis angelicus), as well as an assortment, some recorded in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The songs from Denver’s album were recorded in 1981, when Domingo was at the peak of his powers. I enjoyed that album back then, and I still like it. The quasi-sacred numbers were recorded in 1979 and are well sung by Domingo. One may marvel that Domingo was still singing and recording in his seventies, but these recorded numbers from the 2010s show an artist past his prime. Songs are transposed down and the voice, though still recognizably Domingo’s, is that of an older man. These may be the best Plácido Domingo had to offer at that age, but definitely not the best of Plácido Domingo, as the album title suggests.
CD 4 features mostly pop and cross-over material, all in Spanish or Portuguese. The quality of the singing is as diverse as the songs: there are some excellent examples of singing from the early 1980s, and some tracks recorded in 2011, 2012 and 2014. These songs are much more forgiving on the singer than the operatic numbers on CDs 1 and 2, but still many items on CD 4 are some way off Domingo’s best.
Many of the tracks are spaced too close together, and given the diverse nature of this album, the transition from one track to the next often feels too sudden. An extra second or two between each track would have made for a much smoother listening experience.
This 4-CD set is handsomely packaged, in a double-folded paper case with transparent plastic CD holders. The artwork inside is a collage of the album covers from Domingo’s previous releases, some of which are not part of this album. The booklet in English, German and French gives good background information on Domingo as well as tracking information.
In his prime Domingo was a very good tenor, with an amazing breadth of repertoire. The first 2 CDs on this album - with the exception of the baritone track - showcase the best of Domingo, as the title suggests. Even in his prime, given his extremely large repertoire, Domingo was not the best at everything he did. One must admire him for his incredible capacity and willingness to learn such a huge number of works, something he has continued doing in his advanced age. That said, the quality of his singing in the past decade or so reflects the inevitable decline of an aging singer.
Wai Kit Leung
CD 1 [76:10]
1. VERDI Rigoletto: La donna è mobile
2. VERDI Rigoletto: Ella mi fu rapita - Parmi veder le lagrime
3. PUCCINI La Bohème: Che gelida manina
4. PUCCINI La Bohème: O soave fanciulla
5. VERDI Aida: Se quel guerrier... Celeste Aida
6. VERDI Il trovatore: Ah sì, ben mio
7. VERDI Il trovatore: Di quella pira
8. PUCCINI Tosca: Dammi i colori - Recondita armonia
9. PUCCINI Turandot: Non piangere, Liù - Ah! Per l'ultima volta!
10. VERDI Un ballo in maschera: Barcarola: Di' tu se fedele
11. VERDI La Traviata: Lunge da lei - De' miei bollenti spiriti
12. PUCCINI Tosca: E lucevan le stelle
13. PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Vogliatemi bene (Bimba dagli occhi)
14. VERDI La traviata: Di provenza il mar
15. PUCCINI Turandot: Nessun dorma
16. VERDI Luisa Miller: Oh! fede negar potessi - Quando le sere al placido
17. VERDI Don Carlos: E lui! desso! -Dio, che nell'alma infondere amor
18. VERDI Otello: Niun me tema
CD 2 [77:30]
1. LEONCAVALLO Pagliacci: Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba
2. CILEA L'Arlesiana: È la solita storia
3. BIZET Carmen: La fleur que tu m'avais jetée
4. FLOTOW Martha: M'appari tutt'amor
5. WAGNER Lohengrin: In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritten
6. MOZART Die Zauberflöte: Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton
7. MOZART Don Giovanni: Il mio tesoro
8. DONIZETTI L'elisir d'amore: Una furtiva lagrima
9. GIORDANO Andrea Chénier: Un dî all'azzuro spazio
10. MASSENET Werther: Pourquoi me reveiller?
11. MASSENET Manon: Je suis seul! - Ah fuyez, douce image
12. GOUNOD Faust (Margarethe): Quel trouble - Salut! demeure chaste et pure
13. MEYERBEER L'Africana: Mi batte il cor ... O Paradiso!
14. GOUNOD Roméo et Juliette: L'amour! L'amour! - Ah! Léve-toi
15. TCHAIKOVSKY Eugene Onegin: Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis
16. MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana: Mamma, quel vino è generoso
17. BIZET Les Pêcheurs de perles: Au fond du temple saint
CD 3 [76:20]
1. Un Uomo tra la Folla
3. Maria from West Side Story
4. Torna a Surriento
5. Hear my Song
6. My Life for a Song
7. Il primo tocco
8. Annie's Song
10. Il mio cuore va - My Heart will go on
11. Perhaps Love
12. Autumn Leaves
13. Plaisir d'amour
15. La coscienza
16. The Gift of Love
17. Amore glorificato
19. Ave Maria
20. Ombra mai fu from Serse
21. Agnus Die
22. Panis Angelicus
23. Children of Christmas
CD 4 [80:36]
2. Alma latina
6. De México a Buenos Aires
7. El humahuaqueño
8. Manha de carnaval
9. La Paloma
11. Bésame mucho
13. Perfidia - Frenesí - La última noche
14. Paloma querida
15. La malagueña
16. Ayúdame, Dios mio
17. Yo soy mexicano
18. Quiéreme mucho
19. La negra Noche