Sample tantalizing snippets of Domingo

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

March 26, 2006|By TIM SMITH


Time inevitably works its annoying business on opera singers, as it does on all of us, but a few fortunate artists manage to keep it off of their vocal cords longer than normal. Placido Domingo is among the luckiest of all in that respect.

At 65, the Spanish tenor still sings with more beauty of tone and sheer heft than a whole lot of folks half his age. Still, it's worth being reminded of his work from earlier days, and for a quick -- much too quick -- trip into Domingo's past, consider this new Kultur DVD, scheduled for release Tuesday. It contains excerpts from live performances with strong casts and conductors, recorded 1981-85 at La Scala in Milan and, mostly, the Royal Opera House in London.

And I do mean excerpts. The editors are ruthless as they squeeze everything into just 57 minutes' worth of vintage Domingo. The cuts can be abrupt and awfully frustrating, making the whole thing look more like someone's home-editing job. But as a souvenir of brilliant singing, it delivers nonetheless.

After a bit of humor as an appetizer -- Domingo, conducting a performance of Die Fledermaus, exchanges banter and the first notes of Celeste Aida with the character of the drunken jailer onstage -- the real action begins with scenes from Ernani. Note how the tenor's voice, a couple of shades lighter in timbre than it is today, dances across the melodic line in the second verse of Dell'esiglio nel dolore, creating a delicious effect. He's sensitively supported here by conductor Riccardo Muti.

Manon Lescaut finds Domingo partnering an intense Kiri Te Kanawa (so much for her reputation as a cold actress) with another major conductor, the late Giuseppe Sinopoli. The tenor sounds wonderful, with a real ping, an extra charge of color and vibrancy in the tone, making a couple of iffy top notes unimportant. He's just as impressive in the Kleinzach aria from The Tales of Hoffmann. Too bad we don't get all of it.

Fortunately, all of Ch'ell mi creda from La Fanciulla del West is included, and it's a stirring performance in a production that, judging by the snippets included here, suggests a very hot night at the opera. Same for the samples from Andrea Chenier, including a beautifully molded Come un bel di di maggio.

The whole disc is over in a flash, unlike Domingo's career, which, against the odds, promises still more vocal artistry to come.

Special features: None (but you can choose from seven languages, including Portuguese and Japanese, for subtitles).



Wrapped, like its predecessors, in a parka, the fourth season of Northern Exposure makes a welcome appearance on DVD on Tuesday. It just reaffirms what the show's fans have long known -- TV isn't nearly as interesting since this imaginative and insightful saga of life in the Alaskan town of Cicely left the air.

The fourth season introduces environmentalist Mike, who lives in a bubble; welcomes back Marilyn's unlikely suitor; finds Chris disposing of a buddy's remains; and presents the curious phenomenon of Shelly replacing normal speech with song. In short, things are just as blissfully abnormal as ever.

The boxed set includes deleted and extended scenes.


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