Low rumblings about Domingo’s baritone

John Allison, in the December issue of Opera magazine (quoted in Der Neue Merker):

Our reviewer of Covent Garden’s I Due Foscari, is measured when writing about Placido Domingo, but he does make it clear that the baritone’s Francesco Foscari was a disappointment. In the Sunday Times, Hugh Canning was more direct. Observing that this must have been the first time a Domingo opening aria went un-applauded at the ROH, he reported, “His voice is a shadow of its former self, lacking resonance in barely sketched-in low notes…As ever, he presents a figure of great dignity, but the state of his voice means he can no longer do justice to Verdi or to his own reputation. He has often said that he would know the time to retire, but on the evidence of the opening night, sadly, that time has past.

It’s not only our ears that are signaling this, but a few straightforward sums too. By most reckonings, Domingo has been singing on stage for an incredible 57 years. Though the exact number of candles that belong on his birthday cake is likely to be the subject of an annual squabble, several in the know claim that he recently reached a nice round number, which of course makes his performances all the more astonishing.

domingo foscari roh

 

 

In last month’s ‘We hear that…’we leaked news of his 2017 Posa in Don Carlos in Vienna, which will be one for the record books if he has not switched to The Grand Inquisitor by then. As George Loomis notes this month in his review of the new Giovanna d’Arco recording on which Domingo tackles Giacomo, the singer has been rapacious in his clean-up of the Verdi baritone repertoire. In February in Berlin Domingo will add Macbeth to this gallery.

No one would have foreseen this when, beginning in 2009, Domingo was encouraged by several houses to sing Simon Boccanegra. It was a worthwhile indulgence, perhaps, to try something different, having notched up 130 tenor roles, Domingo had certainly earned himself the right to try something different. The then tenor had apparently already been nicknamed ‘Mingo’ on account of lacking a ‘Do’ (or C), but maybe this descent into baritone territory should have been a final homecoming for the singer- after all, he started out as a baritone- rather than a pension plan. Subsequent vocal decline apart, Domingo has always lacked something in this reincarnation: unable to show off any high notes, he can relax in the register where a true Verdian baritone would have to push, resulting with little of the visceral thrill one associates with this music. Domingo may have baritone notes, but Verdian drama is geared to the musculature and timbre of a real baritone.

Domingo’s baritonal adventures raise all manner of other issues, and involve other artistic compromises too. It is hard to believe that Covent Garden would have brought in Thaddeus Strassberger’s Foscari production if it hadn’t been part of the package. It is also ironic that Domingo’s own Operalia competition rewards the best vocal style and technique, when these things have audibly deserted the singer; and can really be said to be supporting young singers when he is hogging the stage from the next generation of baritones? Domingo’s quasi-philanthropic reasons in work pale next to the good he can still do elsewhere as a figurehead and promoter of opera. His addiction to the greasepaint may be understandable, but audience memories of his glory days are already faded. Perhaps he should stop before too many people begin questioning their loyalty to his great artistry.

 

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  • Yet people still book the tickets and fill the seats. Vote with your feet if you think it’s a problem. He’s not the problem, we are.

    • Watched him at ROH last year in Nabucco, and was pleasantly surprised. Couldn’t imagine that in such a mature age the voice can sound so good. I expected to feel pity and disappointment after reading some criticism; instead, left amazed.

  • What a shame that Mr. Domingo doesn’t realize that it is time to retire from the opera stage. Singing baritone roles is not a good option! His super ego seems to be thriving!

  • I’ve heard one of Ramon Vinay’s late baritone outings, Iago in Otello (is most famous role as a tenor) and, for what it’s worth, he really sounded like a baritone singing the part, not a lazy tenor.

  • Absolutely right, Jonathan!
    … and Brian, too! After all, WHEN was Domingo ever a baritone? On YouTube you can find recordings of him singing as a tenor when he was 21 – NO WAY was he ever a baritone, except as a pubescent boy, perhaps! Time to retire gracefully, Placido – you’ve made enough money and it’s time to let younger singers near the top actually get there before they reach your age (70, by the way)!

  • This makes me very sad. The man has achieved more than any singer has ever achieved before and very probably after him. The fact that he seems unable to call it a day and that, as a result, he is starting to demolish a wonderful reputation and lose the goodwill of his millions of fans, is a telling symptom of the effects of superstardom.Those artists are surrounded by sycophants whose livelihoods also depend on continuing to be employed or who earn from his hard work – and are therefore also loathe to impart bad news.
    In this case one would have hoped that his family at least might be able to tell him to pull the plug – but they too benefit from his largesse and are therefore also probably too cowardly to say anything. PD is a highly intelligent man – maybe in the end, he himself will realise the danger he is now in and take the decision. I really hope so….

  • I wish he didn’t make this switch, maybe tackled Death in Venice as a final achievement, and retired about 10 years ago…

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