[This is a reprint of an AP article.]
WASHINGTON May 31, 2011
As the lights went out, Placido Domingo ducked his head underneath the descending curtain as if to soak in the applause a little longer.
You could excuse the legendary Spanish tenor for seeking to revel as long as possible in the afterglow of a night when he scaled walls, rolled around like an actor in his prime and projected his honey-colored voice across an overflowing opera house.
At 70, Domingo's still got it. He looks fresh 14 months on from colon cancer surgery and by the standard of last week's grueling set of back-to-back performances appears downright indefatigable. After excelling as Oreste in Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride" Wednesday evening, the septuagenarian dusted himself off to take the rostrum less than 24 hours for a staging of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale." He conducted one more time Friday, and closed out 15 years as the Washington National Opera's general director on Saturday, playing Oreste again.
"I am singing because I can," he said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. "But why I am still able to sing, you know, this is a big mystery for me."
In a role that doesn't tax him too much with higher notes, Domingo commanded the crowd's attention on Wednesday from the moment he entered the stage — even as he labored through some early passages. His voice opened up throughout the performance, producing a slightly deeper tenor that pinged at all the right moments. He was wildly cheered when the curtain came down.
Written in 1779, "Iphigenie" represents the aging Gluck's attempt to create a stripped-down baroque, bereft of frills and fairies, and focused on the dramatic action. It is the type of opera in which Domingo shines with his interpretative skill, playing a character that must alternate existential suffering and self-delusion until he gains salvation. One scene Domingo soulfully muses on how the gods are "just"; the very next he's furrowing his brow to condemn them as "cruel."
The story centers on Iphigenie, stranded far from her native Greece in barbaric Tauride, serving as Diane's high priestess. She must sacrifice someone to appease the gods and a Greek prisoner arrives bearing the guilt of having killed his own mother.
He happens to be Iphigenie's own brother, Oreste, but they don't recognize each other at first. Eventually they realize the kinship and fight off the blood-thirsty Scythian king Thoas. Diane pardons Oreste and tells him to take his sister back to Greece.
In Patricia Racette, the Washington staging benefits from a full-bodied, elegant soprano who appears like a Valkyrie in dark attire accompanied by her fellow priestesses. She sang powerfully, projecting the full exasperation of Iphigenie as she makes "un choix si fatal" — the fatal choice over Oreste's life. And she was rewarded with applause that equaled that for Domingo, even if some higher notes sounded wispy.
Simone Alberghini was menacing as Thoas but could have offered more subtlety in his singing. Shawn Mathey delivered a warm and extremely sympathetic performance as Oreste's inseparable companion, Pylades. William Lacey conducted.
For Washington, it will be impossible to replace Domingo, whose legacy is staggering: more than 3,500 performances worldwide; 134 roles and counting; a dozen Grammy awards. He underscored his star power this month by drawing full houses with the relatively obscure "Iphigenie" and crowds that exceeded expectations for a somewhat campy "Don Pasquale."
The opera company is doing its best to move on. It has enlisted respected director Francesca Zambello to maintain the high bar as its new artistic adviser, and she hopes to stage a complete cycle of Wagner's "Ring" that was supposed to be in Washington but moved to San Francisco because of financial troubles. The capital's opera also has a new musical director in Philippe Auguin and it is merging with the Kennedy Center to provide financial stability. Tax records from 2009 showed it owed about $11.6 million.
In Donizetti's bel canto comedy, Domingo did his best to stretch out and speed up the tempo in a production that laid it on a little thick with the potty humor. Viewers saw bedpans, toupees and false teeth as the aging title character is tricked into marrying the Belle Epoque's ultimate trophy wife, only to later discover it was a ruse designed to secure the blessing of his wayward nephew's marriage.
As Don Pasquale, James Morris provided much of the humor and was at his best when bellowing with infuriation. Softer passages were more difficult for the accomplished interpreter of many Wagner and Verdi baritone roles.
Young Russians Julia Novikova and Alexey Kudrya showed lots of promise, especially Kudrya with his light lyric tenor. Dwyane Croft proved a steadying influence as the scheming Dr. Malatesta and didn't put a note wrong all evening.
La Donna del Lago, Royal Opera House
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