Sunday, June 19, 2011

The greatest gift: In appreciation on Father's Day

Does this violin have a gorgeous varnish or what? It was made some time around the year 1900 in Germany. It belonged to my violin teacher, who lent it to me when I was in high school. It had and still has a beautiful, warm sound. My family didn’t have enough money to buy a good violin like this. After I had played it for a few years, I told my father that I would be very unhappy when I had to give it back to my teacher. “You don’t have to give it back,” my father told me. “It’s yours now.” He had been paying my teacher a small amount of money every week for years. This violin is, in more ways than one, the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Happy Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Placido Domingo is a superstar in Iphygenie en Tauride

I rarely go to see operas because they are so expensive.  Recently, however, there was one I just had to see:  Iphygenie en Tauride with Placido Domingo as the star male character in his last performance with the Washington National Opera.

Someone forewarned me that now, at age 70, Domingo's voice isn't nearly what it used to be.  After the opera, I listened to some of his old recordings on Youtube and found that his voice has changed very little over the past few decades.  His voice is magnificent, strong, and very expressive.

Iphygenie en Tauride
is a very good vehicle for showing off Domingo's voice.  This production is stark and austere, and the staging is almost completely static.  The real drama in this opera is psychological and sensational.  Oreste and his friend Pylade have been taken as slaves, and one of them, to be chosen by Iphygenie, must be killed.  Oreste has killed his mother (before the current opera begins) and wants to die.  Pylade also wants to die.  The two sing a very beautiful duet, each saying that the other is a better man and each wanting to die.

Just as Iphygenie is about to kill Oreste with her dagger, the two recognize each other as sister and brother.  They embrace each other and life itself. 

The musical score by Gluck conveys the drama very effectively.  It is direct and forceful.  The instrumental and vocal music hang tightly together and accentuate the sense of drama. 

In this production of Iphygenie en Tauride, with its minimalist staging, Placido Domingo conveys enormous drama with his singing and his acting.  Unlike most opera singers, Domingo considers himself  a performer first and a singer by virtue of a lot of hard work.  In a recent interview with CBC news* he said, "It was never easy for me to start singing...I was just building my voice little by little.  I never had the idea that I would be able to sing opera."  When he began singing leading roles in the early 60s, critics said that he would only continue for two years.  Critics have seldom been so wrong.  At age 70, he is still going strong.  In his role as Oreste, he sings a high baritone role.  He is, indeed, a performer.  He uses his singing, body movements, and facial expression to play his role with great emotion.

In his last vocal performance with the Washington National Opera, Placido Domingo shows that he is still a superstar of opera.  I wish that he would stay in Washington longer.

*CBC News, Arts and Entertainment, June 3, 2011