Plácido Domingo: "Domingo Verdi"
With Blue, Machado, Piqueras, Carrillo, Buratto; Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Heras-Casado. Texts and translations. Sony 88883733122
Why does this disc of baritone arias make me think of that televised baseball game, decades ago, when Plácido Domingo sang our national anthem? He was not exactly in his element at Yankee Stadium, or wherever that game occurred; he all too conspicuously read the words "O sé can-i-u sì" from a crib sheet in the palm of his hand. But what a sound! "The Star-Spangled Banner" on that occasion became a splendid tenor aria.
That's what occurs here with "Eri tu," "Di Provenza" or especially Rodrigo's farewell from Don Carlo. In this late-career move into baritone territory, not the singer but the song has been transformed. And yet, if you can forget a certain incongruity of timbre — and try to erase memories of Bastianini or Cappuccilli or MacNeil — these scenes and arias ring with stylistic and dramatic authenticity. In a parallel universe, Verdi might even have written them for a robust tenor.
Is Renato any the less angry, less vulnerable or less wounded because the forceful emotions resound in overtones, with an almost youthful sob and bleat? And the signs of fatigue and grief in Germont's plea to his son, the searing pain as Macbeth nears his end: do they move us less without a broad, beefy tone? Given Domingo's sovereign way with the Verdi style and its characteristic shape and rhythms (as in the sweeping "Il balen"), given his eloquent diction, still-solid breath control and earnest commitment, these scenes are persuasive and finely crafted; if tone is slender, the line is secure.
While Domingo makes his firmest stand as Rodrigo in Don Carlo, which is as close as Verdi gets to writing for a baryton martin, he is predictably stretched in the Forza del Destino segment. In that opera's nasty extended soliloquy, a "black" baritone snarl is de rigueur, especially when the line descends low on "ti fe' il volto rosseggiar." Even in this scene, his accurate cabaletta at high speed is exhilarating.
Hearing Domingo's pealing high G in Carlo's "Oh de' verd'anni miei," from Ernani, or the lyrical arc of his well-phrased "Cortigiani," we're reminded that our age is not exactly teeming with formidable Verdi baritones who can scale those heights. It's in that tenor range, of course, that he is at his most tenorial; in extremis, he can only be himself. In calmer mid-range music, for instance in Rigoletto's recitatives or Rodrigo's quasi-spoken "la vendetta del re," you sense Domingo dutifully going baritonal, laying on a darker, wider tone even at some cost in naturalness.
Support by Pablo Heras-Casado and the orchestra from Valencia, Spain, is generally strong, especially in the pacing of the Forza scene. There's a tendency to rush some of the tricky passages, possibly at the soloist's preference, and the woodwinds fall short in the Rigoletto and Don Carlo selections. Among supporting singers in cameos, tenor Aquiles Machado has a youthful squillo (in Adorno and Carlo's brief lines) that's well chosen for contrast with the man singing baritone.
DAVID J. BAKER
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