Domingo delivers in `Trilogy'

Music Review

September 29, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Placido Domingo, an incurable multitasker, opened Washington National Opera's 50th anniversary season conducting a production from the orchestra pit one week and singing in another the next.

In between all of this activity, the superstar tenor continued to hold down his day job as general director of the company (and of the Los Angeles Opera, too.)

A lot of folks probably wish Domingo would forget all about that extra stuff and just sing. Now 64, he's still capable of producing more beautiful, dynamic vocalism than a whole mess of tenors.

Washington National's specially created potpourri called Trilogy: Domingo and Guests in Three Acts is not as satisfying as one full, Domingo-powered opera would be, but three extended excerpts are better than none. Let's face it; any opportunity to hear him singing almost anything is welcome.

On Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center, Domingo sounded tired and cautious at times, but still delivered where it counted most. And that was in the second of Trilogy's extracted acts - the final one from Verdi's Otello.

The tenor, who has owned the role of the conflicted Moor for a long time, demonstrated unfailing accuracy, authority and musicality. In Otello's remorseful plea for a last kiss from the wife he senselessly strangled, Domingo achieved compelling pathos.

Barbara Frittoli was no less impressive as the unfortunate Desdemona, the voice creamy, the phrasing brimming with insight. It doesn't get much better than this today. A masterful, thoroughly involving performance.

Heinz Fricke's sensitive conducting brought out the richest playing of the evening from the opera company's orchestra.

To open Trilogy, Domingo chose the eventful Act 2 of Giordano's Fedora, a potboiler about love and politics among czarist nobility that needs more lyrical power and sweep than it got here.

Sylvie Valayre sang the title role in a veiled, sometimes effortful tone; her Fedora needed more fire and presence. Domingo gave the opera's one, very brief hit tune, Amor ti vieta, sufficient warmth, but he seemed disconnected from the scene.

The supporting cast did spirited work; soprano Amanda Squitieri was a standout as Olga. James Lesniak handled the pivotal, onstage piano solo elegantly and more or less securely. Eugene Kohn was the bland conductor.

For something completely different, Trilogy closed with the last-act party scene from Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow.

A cute attempt to tie the whole evening together found Valayre and Frittoli stopping by to sing a Mozart duet - very charmingly. (Greeting Frittoli, Domingo said, "You're looking a lot better than when I last saw you.")

Along the way, soprano Christine Noll, as Valencienne in the Widow, had a colorful vocal romp with an interpolation of Gershwin's By Strauss.

Domingo sounded relaxed and, with Leslie Mutchler as the Widow, sang the operetta's signature waltz nicely. Kohn's conducting had more style this time.

Micha Hendel's routine stage direction and John Coyne's economical scenery didn't do a lot for Trilogy as a visual experience, but the triple dose of Domingo and some stellar help from his guests kept the ear engaged.

"Trilogy" continues at the Kennedy Center in Washington Friday, Sunday, and Oct. 6 and 9. For ticket information, call 202-295-2400.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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