Plácido Domingo and the Royal Opera – Book Review

Plácido Domingo and the Royal Opera

Plácido Domingo and the Royal Opera

Plácido Domingo, the legendary Spanish tenor, has just completed a sell-out run in Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac at Covent Garden, his 23rd role for the company. To commemorate his achievements, the Royal Opera House has just published a book in its ROH Heritage Series. Edited by Cristina Franchi and published by Oberon Books, it is a photographic survey divided into sections covering Domingo’s roles in various repertoires.

The opening chapter describes Domingo’s rise to fame, his musical parentage and the brief singing career of his wife, Marta. We see pictures of Domingo as a child, in costume as a teenager with his mother in a Spanish zarauela or operetta, and in three pictures with his wife, also in costume. The book’s problem is apparent already: very few pictures (all of them black and white) are required to tell the story of Domingo’s life, and the text is so brief that it makes a fool of your mouth.

The chapter on the Puccini roles recalls some nice memories Domingo with Kiri Te Kanawa in Manon Lescaut, Katia Ricciarelli in La bohme and Carol Neblett in La fanciulla del West. The latter in particular marked a high point for the tenor’s relationship with the Royal Opera, and six dramatic stills recall the production, which is also available on DVD.

To me, Verdi is the composer whose music most suited Domingo in his prime. A lavish chapter reminds us of Luisa Miller, Stiffelio, Un ballo in maschera and Aida, with thirteen pictures of Otello showing different views of Domingo in two different productions of the opera. It’s nice in particular to see an image of Margaret Price, one of the finest Desdemonas on record, as well as Rosalind Plowright as Leonora in Il trovatore in 1989, when she was still singing the soprano roles.

We’re reminded of Domingo’s other Italian roles in a chapter that includes images of Pagliacci with Zeffirelli, Andrea Chenier with Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Fedora with Maria Guleghina, and two different productions of Carmen are represented in the next section. I particularly like the small picture on page 88 of Domingo and Te Kanawa in the opera in 1973, both of them at the start of their careers. Other French roles covered are Domingo’s remarkable interpretation of Hoffmann, Samson, and Vasco da Gama in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine.

The final section is devoted to Domingo’s most recent roles, such as Gherman in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, the title role in Parsifal, Siegmund in two productions of Die Walkre, and the recent Cyrano. There is a mistake on page 102: the text claims that Bernard Haitink conducted the Parsifal concert performances, when it was in fact Heinz Fricke, who took over when Haitink was suffering from heart trouble. The appendix of performances at the back states this correctly. It’s a shame and a little frustrating that a book that is already short on text makes such a glaring factual error.

Finally, we see Domingo in conductor-mode, outside on the big screen, and meeting various famous figures including Princess Diana and Ava Gardner.

The book is a timely reminder of Domingo’s achievements in a remarkable career, and one comes away with a sense of the breadth of his roles, even if more text and colour illustrations would do him more justice.

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More on Plácido Domingo
Nabucco @ Royal Opera House, London
Simon Boccanegra @ Royal Opera, London
Plácido Domingo and the Royal Opera – Book Review
Cyrano de Bergerac @ Royal Opera House, London
Die Walküre @ Royal Opera, London