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Music Pages

Domingo downsizes

8 July 2010, [Originally posted on 30th June 2010]

Plácido Domingo sings Simon Boccanegra
Plácido Domingo sings Simon Boccanegra

John Steane gives his impressions of Plácido Domingo’s performance in the baritone role of Simon Boccanegra, which opened in Covent Garden last night.

Standing before the audience at the end of his first London performance as Simon Boccanegra, Plácido Domingo won himself a reception which expressed, as well as their appreciation of that night’s work, the audience’s warm regard for the man and a lifetime’s achievement.

But this does not mean that his experiment of singing one of Verdi’s greatest baritone roles as a tenor had been successful. We commonly think of Domingo’s tenor as baritonal, but if there was one thing that the experiment demonstrated, it was the difference between that (the baritonal tenor) and the real thing. The centres of resonance are different, and the timbre and its associations that Verdi had in mind were not those of a tenor. The wrongness of tone was apparent from the first, wrong in itself and wrong in its relation to other voices (as in the trio in act  two).

The passage least affected was the monologue at the start of act three which with the warmth of characterisation was raised almost to the status of Otello’s great solo where he also has the stage to himself for the only time in the opera. At such moments, the tone regained its old beauty. Elsewhere it was a voice singing within its range but not its rightful tessitura.

It would be wrong to call the venture a failure: but just as certainly, it was not a success.

A concert performance of Simon Boccanegra featuring Plácido Domingo will be broadcast live from this year’s BBC Proms on 18 July 2010.



On the same day that Plácido Domingo gave his first London performance as Simon Boccanegra, he accused opera house directors of casting singers in roles that do not suit them.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, he suggested that good singers are now in short supply due to the number of new opera houses worldwide:

“There are many, many, many more theatres around the world,” he said, “so the needs and variety of repertoire is tremendous. The directors of theatres, they don’t care. They need an artist, and if one of the characters gets sick, they just get another. Probably the voice is not for the piece, but they have to do it.”

Earlier this year, cancer surgery forced Domingo to withdraw from a production of Handel’s Tamerlano that would have made him the first singer ever to appear in both tenor and baritone roles during a single Royal Opera House season. He was replaced as Bajazet by the American tenor, Kurt Streit.



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