Plácido Domingo is in many senses a marvel. At 70 he accumulates the fruits of five decades of relentless work: one of the longest careers in history, the absolute record of twenty season-opening nights at New York´s Met, an immense quantity of LPs, CDs and DVDs, 134 rôles, and the amazing conservation of timbre and stamina that allows him to continue with no end in sight. Of course, age takes its toll even for him, and he has abandoned some high-lying tenor parts, but in recent years he has controversially added baritone characters. Additionally he has been conducting for 25 years, and leading opera houses since 15 in Washington and Los Angeles. He sings in Italian, Spanish, French, German, Russian and English.
He has great love for Buenos Aires, where he made his debut in 1972, and apart from concerts he has sung here in complete operas in several seasons: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1997 and 1998. He has always spoken with great admiration about the Colón as an integrated institution of high quality, and he wanted to do a special thing for the celebration of his seventieth year: in the same day, an operatic concert at the Colón and a more popular one in the open air. But somehow the right information didn´t come to him: the conflict of the two Colón orchestras with the City Government. After postponed press conferences and direct mediation by Domingo, a compromise solution was arrived at: only one concert but with an extensive programme in front of the Obelisk, with an orchestra made up of musicians from the Colón Orchestra ("Estable"), the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the National Symphony and La Plata´s Argentino.
One of the largest crowds ever assembled (estimated at about 120.000) gave its enthusiastic support. Domingo´s frequent partners in international concerts, Argentine soprano Virginia Tola, and American conductor Eugene Kohn, were there as well. And the whole thing went with a bang in a beautiful night (the concert had been postponed from Wednesday to Thursday due to bad weather, but paradoxically that gave them some valuable rehearsal time, otherwise extremely tight).
Starting at 8,15 p.m., it lasted until 11 p.m., with an interval of 15 minutes. The amplified sound was acceptably good for open air conditions, and it certainly helped that there was little wind. The free concert had a VIP section of invitations and the general public sprawled over several blocks of 9 de Julio. The event was organized by the Fundación Beethoven led by the admired pianist Pía Sebastiani and it had the sponsorship of the City Government and several enterprises. Apart from minor mishaps (a small interruption of the transmission affected the big screens that mirrored the concert for those that were far away, and during a couple of minutes there was an insistent sound of multiple sirens) the concert went smoothly.
The First Part started with Choirs of Gypsies and Matadors from Verdi´s "La Traviata" with the Colón Choir prepared by Peter Burian. There were 73 choristers and 76 players. The first choice of Plácido Domingo (PD) was quite interesting, the splendid "Ô Souverain" from Massenet´s "Le Cid", never done at the Colón, where PD´s stirring tones showed unequivocally that the voice was still there, practically untouched, and so was his imposing dramatic presence. Virginia Tola (VT) chose the lovely "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier´s "Louise", deplorably absent from our city since 1945; she sang well but not with the ideal plangency and softness. Finally we heard PD in Wagner, a composer he has often sung elsewhere with great distinction, but not here: it was the melodic "Winterstürme" sung by Siegmund in "Die Walküre", and he did it beautifully, even if his diction is open to misgivings.
Some "verismo" with French plots followed: VT in good form in "Io son l´umile ancella" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur", and PD stunning as Gérard in "Nemico della patria" from Giordano´s "Andrea Chenier": the first time he sings here as a baritone. "La vergine degli angeli" from Verdi´s "La forza del destino" didn´t quite jell: VT wasn´t ethereal enough and the Choir sounded too receded.
There was talk last year that Verdi´s "Simone Boccanegra" would be offered in the Colón´s season with PD in the title part, but as he clarified in a press conference, the available dates didn´t coincide; the Colón plans to offer it this year but with Roberto Frontali. However, PD manifested his wish to sing it here in 2012; if that is so, perhaps they should change "Simone" this year, "Un Ballo in Maschera" in its place would be adequate. But PD sang the wonderful duet of Simone with his daughter (VD) in this concert and they both did some very attractive singing and interpreting. To put in a nutshell the polemics about PD as baritone, they are reduced to one point: he has all the notes but his timbre remains that of a "spinto" (robust and colorful) tenor. His powers of dramatic characterisation are all there.
There followed another "first" , when PD made his debut here as a conductor in the Overture from Verdi´s "La forza del destino": hardly as polished as other versions heard here, it gave a partial account of his abilities in that field (who knows how much rehearsal he had).
The Second Part started with the Act 2 duet of Verdi´s "Rigoletto", minus the chorus (why?) and Monterone´s appearance. I wasn´t quite convinced, especially in the "Vendetta" conclusion; some smudged phrasing from PD, instances of hard voice from VT; PD´s performance in DVD of the complete opera is much better. Things went quite well in the final operatic selection: the Triumphal March from Verdi´s "Aida" (minus the dances) had a very resolute PD as conductor, this time getting much better performances from the orchestra, and with an enthusiastic choral intervention.
I´ll be briefer about the remaining blocks. Five zarzuela fragments were incongruously combined with "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady", well sung by VT in good English. VT was excellent in the charming "Canción de Paloma" from Barbieri´s "El barberillo de Lavapiés", the chorus rather weak in the "Coro de románticos" from Vives´ "Doña Francisquita", PD a bit tired in a piece from Moreno Torroba´s "Maravilla" but fully rallying for two Sorozábal pieces, especially a PD specialty, "No puede ser!" from "La tabernera del puerto".
The final blocks were songs and tangos in overwrought orchestrations. I could have done without a Spanish rendition of a duet from Lehár´s "Die lustige Witwe" and a poor song by César De La Luz, but I liked Grever´s "Júrame" (PD) and Lecuona´s "Bésame" (PD). Lara´s "Granada" could have been more brilliant (PD). As to the tangos, only "El día que me quieras" (duet) was played by the orchestra; the others (well-chosen) were idiomatically accompanied by four proficient bandoneon players: "El día que me quieras" (duet), "Volver (PD), "A media luz" (VT) and "Mi Buenos Aires querido" (duet). If your idea of the tango is circumscribed to Goyeneche, Merello or Rivero, you won´t like PD or VT; but if you accept that the "tango-canción" is a subgenre that goes well with the same voices that can sing "Granada", you will. I did, and the public certainly responded.
Throughout Eugene Kohn conducting was experienced and supportive, and chorus and orchestra responded with visible pleasure; no great refinements can be expected with little rehearsal and in the open air, but it worked. All´s well that ends well, and it was so as far as this concert goes. Now the conflict goes on, fueled by intemperate declarations by Mauricio Macri and Pedro Pablo García Caffi. It remains to be told that prior to the Obelisk concert, PD sang a miniconcert for the Colón employees in the stage, and reportedly kissed the floor. He is a great artist but also a communicative human being with a great rapport with the Colón´s singers, players and technicians. May he come back under better auspices and with less tensions.For Buenos Aires Herald