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 

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