Watching Plácido Domingo as Oreste on the recent opening night of Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met (Feb. 12), I could not help wondering whether the opera world will ever again have a superstar so utterly dedicated to serving the music at hand as it has in its current “grand old man.”
In late-career, Domingo has wisely relinquished most of the familiar roles with which he was closely associated in his prime and sought out lesser known areas of the repertoire that don’t tax his vocal resources but do give him scope to display his undiminished gifts for shaping expressive phrases, coloring his sound and pouring himself into a role with unstinting passion and intensity.
Oreste is by no means a show-off role, musically or dramatically: there are no prolonged high notes, no long, lyrical melodies to spin, and the character, mired in the agony of his unhappy destiny, has no moments to display the sort of crowd-pleasing romantic heroism that has been Domingo’s trademark. Even when the focus is on him, this is a character living so much inside himself that it would be working against the dramatic current for the performer to do anything flashy to grab the spotlight. Yet there is a depth to Domingo’s portrayal, an artistic honesty and integrity, a complete absorption in the Gluckian ethos and a willingness to be a true ensemble member — in some ways even a supporting player — that places his performance, for me, on the same pedestal as some of his greatest mid-career assumptions. To watch him, in the final pantomime, respond to Susan Graham’s Iphigénie as the conflicted princess alternately repulses, pummels and embraces him; to see how he flinches, waits, yearns, despairs and ultimately freezes, suspended in time at the instant of her yielding, before folding her in his arms with wondrous tenderness — all this without ever distracting from her performance — is to understand what a stage partner is meant to be.
I was struck, at the end of the very well received opening, by the somewhat reserved response to Domingo at the curtain call. One might expect an artist of his calibur and his long and illustrious history in the house to be greeted with the operatic equivalent of rock-star hysteria whenever he appears, but here, while he received warm applause, there was no outpouring of mass gratitude and reverence such as have greeted other iconic performers toward the end of their careers. One almost got the sense that Domingo’s very seriousness of approach somehow heads off such demonstrations. Or perhaps the reserve of the reformer Gluck tends to rub off on his fans. But I find myself hoping it was merely an aberration, as I, for one, would like to see this great master given his full due.
LOUISE T. GUINTHER