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Review: Plácido Domingo Reaches 50 Years at the Met Opera

Category: Entertainment,Music

The review in The New York Times said that the young tenor “again and again lifted the performance out of the depths of fatuity into which it relentlessly lapsed.”

It was the fall of 1968, and Plácido Domingo had arrived for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera House, bringing the sincerity and sense of purpose that would become his trademarks. Fifty years later, thumbing his nose at the many who said he would and should have retired by now, he is still there.

Having reinvented himself as a baritone, Mr. Domingo seems not at all done with a second act that has extended his career as a leading man probably beyond any in operatic history. And he was honored for a half-century of Met stardom on Friday, when he appeared for the first time this season in the title role of “Gianni Schicchi,” the comic butt of Puccini’s three-opera “Il Trittico.”

[Read about another Domingo landmark: his 150th role.]

Doubtless the Met would have given him a gala evening all his own if he’d wanted it. But this was a characteristically unshowy, unsaccharine tribute for a singer who has always given the sense of wanting, above all, to get on with the work.

Held onstage during the intermission between Puccini’s first two acts and prefaced by a short assemblage of filmed performance clips, the ceremony was simple. The company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, presented Mr. Domingo with a piece of the Met’s stage (very classy) and a gilded version of his “Otello” costume (less so). Some distinguished colleagues — Martina Arroyo, Sherrill Milnes, James Morris, Teresa Stratas — were pointed out in the audience. Mr. Domingo thanked the public; the Met’s leaders; its orchestra, chorus and stagehands; and his family. That was that.

As the reel of clips played, it occurred to me that none of Mr. Domingo’s recordings would be among my desert island discs; other voices and presences have been more urgent and essential. Yet I will always treasure having seen one of his final Met Otellos, in 1999; his last outpouring that evening was the very sound of grand, wounded dignity. And the sheer life force he now embodies — nearly 80 and still adding new roles to a roster of 150 — is a wonder of the world.

He was delightful on Friday, even without having to rescue the rest of the performance from any depths of fatuity. Celebrating the centennial of the work’s world premiere, at the Met on Dec. 14, 1918, this was a very fine “Trittico,” particularly the disconsolate “Il Tabarro,” inflamed by Amber Wagner’s big, creamy soprano, Marcelo Álvarez’s effusive tenor, and George Gagnidze’s grim, moody baritone. From the conductor Bertrand de Billy and the orchestra, I kept hearing more of the score’s conjunction of soaring lyricism and aqueous modernism.

[Read about the “Trittico” world premiere and Puccini’s time in New York.]

In the title role of “Suor Angelica,” the second of the three operas, Kristine Opolais was haunted and focused, her soprano less brittle than it’s been over the past few years. Especially heard opposite the easy richness of the mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, Ms. Opolais’s tone tended pale when low in her range, and thin up high, but her suffering and transcendence were chillingly real.

In “Gianni Schicchi,” the soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan, making her Met debut, delivered a gentle “O mio babbino caro.” MaryAnn McCormick and Maurizio Muraro enlivened some small but crucial roles over the triptych, in a revival of Jack O’Brien’s handsome staging.

But it was Mr. Domingo’s night. I was most moved to see him lumber to his knee and touch the stage during his curtain call after “Gianni Schicchi.”

The ovation he received was a reward for five decades, yes, but also for his wry, confidently sung Schicchi, a rare funny part for him and one he approached with easygoing charm. That 1968 Times review described him as “a strapping fellow with a plangent and sizable voice, as well as considerable stage magnetism.” Fifty years later, I second that.

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