Thursday, September 22, 2011

Domingo's voice rings out through the decades

A friend of mine who's a veteran operagoer has a favorite anecdote about hearing a young tenor named Placido Domingo in the 1960s.

Domingo had made a splash as the ardent young Alfredo in Verdi's "La Traviata" -- a basically lyrical role. Then he turned right around and appeared in a role that's much more tougher on the voice, especially for a singer who's still maturing: Samson in Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah." At one of the performances, my friend and a fellow opera buff shook their heads and said that if Domingo kept on that way, he'd never last.

He showed them a thing or two, didn't he? He did keep on, and at 70 years old, Domingo is still at it.

If he has a secret recipe for longevity, he doesn't divulge it in "Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles," a tribute that begins airing Friday, Sept. 23, on PBS' "Great Performances." Relaxing in an armchair, he reflects on life, opera and the characters he plays -- many of whom are feeling the pangs of betrayal, lost love or other misfortunes. "In real life, I want to be happy," Domingo explains. "But onstage, it's wonderful to suffer. ... You can give so much of yourself."

And give he does, in video clips of opera performances from across his career. Domingo's robust, ringing tones pour out through the 1970s, '80s and '90s, unleashing the despair and exultation of an array of characters familiar and otherwise. Most of the performances come from the opera house, of course, but a few arise from special circumstances -- such as a "Tosca" filmed in the opera's real-life locations in Rome. As Domingo sings the doomed Cavaradossi's last-act aria, St. Peter's Basilica glows behind him in dawn's early light. Could any opera-house stage equal that?

"Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles" airs at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, on S.C's ETV network. UNC-TV will start it the same night at 10 p.m. If past experience is any indication, each network may show it more than once.
For details on the program: