History alive! Gala concert „Plácido Domingo’s 50th anniversary“. La Scala/Milano, 15 December, 2019.
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It does not happen every day. It does not happen every year. It does most likely not even happen once in a century – a singer celebrating his 50th anniversary at an opera house, still singing! So, all who had the luck to have a ticket for this sold-out (sold-out in 10 minutes) performance were well aware what they were witnessing a special occasion: Plácido Domingo celebrated his 50th anniversary on stage of Milano’s famous La Scala opera house with an – in many ways – historic gala concert.
Unique achievements and talents
Since his La Scala debut on 7th of December, 1969, in Verdi’s Ernani, Domingo has sung 154 evenings in total, 23 different roles in 35 productions, 8 performances were prestigious season openings.
These facts alone would be enough reason to honour him, but then there was this 155th evening, this gala performance.
And here he proved once again, why the magazine Classical-music.com (and not only Classical-music.com ) once ranked him as the “greatest tenor of all times”. Even though he has returned to his natural baritone repertoire during recent years, there are some unique qualities in his performances which make him outstanding and incomparable, and which remained almost undamaged in all his more than 60 years long career:
- His singular, huge voice with its thrilling ring, no matter which “Fach” or role or voice he sings.
- His projection, his capacity to reach the last corner of huge houses with his voice, even in pianissimo.
- His profound singing technique and his incredible voice support (he once showed this on TV, by pushing a piano through a room only with his diaphragm).
- His dramatic acting skills and his unlimited passion for being totally immersed in the role he plays, even in concert performances.
- His charisma and unmatched stage presence.
- His stamina and longevity.
- His honest devotion and love for music.
- His musicality, a rich gift from nature.
- His ability to connect with different audiences by sheer “vibes” and irresistible charm.
- And some others that cannot be described in words, sometimes people describe it as “just beyond words, one must feel and experience him to understand his magic”.
All of those qualities mentioned above, he proved on that 15 December 2019 – the audience gave him almost half an hour of standing ovations, rhythmic clapping and stomping, and ardent “Plá-ci-do” chanting – from the young, enthusiastic musicians in the pit up to the notorious “loggionisti” in the standing rooms! “I have never seen anything similar in a performance in all the 68 years I have been attending performances here,” stated an elderly man with tears in his eyes.
Domingo was in extraordinary vocal and physical state this evening. Already his opener “Pietà, rispetto, amore“ from Macbeth, was a powerful example of the “Verdian style” of singing. His voice was strong and clear, and there was not even a whiff of wobble in it. Given that he is going to be 79 years in a few weeks, one is tempted to call that “supernatural”. The evening was richly programmed with great excerpts of Verdi operas (Macbeth, Don Carlo,Il trovatore, I vespri siciliani), and wonderful colleagues joined Domingo: Soprano Saioa Hernández, tenor Jorge de León and opera giant Ferruccio Furlanetto. Two operatic war horses and two mature artists at their heydays together created a magical evening.
Saioa Hernández has a very strong, powerful voice, especially impressing in the lower register. She has to carefully handle the high notes, which are sometimes endangered to become too sharp – but she mastered that challenge with elegance and discipline. Her interacting with Domingo in particular was very moving. Only by facial expression and gestures they both managed to turn the concert into a performance that was felt like a staged one. It was fascinating to watch, and even more exciting to listen to it. Also, Jorge de León gave an example of his skills and his virile voice in his solo aria “O figli … ah, la paterna mano”.
Ferruccio Furlanetto – the name says it all. His massive and yet elegant bass voice in his “Come dal ciel precipita” (from Macbeth) or his “O patria… O tu Palermo” (from I vespri siciliani) left the audience in awe. The combination of his unique voice, his long and rich experience, and his elegant lines were just stunning, gave us chills and moments of gratefulness.
However, the duets with his long-term colleague Domingo were amongst the highlights of the evening. To see and hear those two giants together is something you will never forget in all your life. When Domingo’s Posa went down on his knees in front of Furlanetto’s King Philip during the Don Carlo duet “Restate!…Presso alla mia persona”, one could not help but getting emotional. Many tears were running down (male and female) cheeks in that very moment. When Domingo jumped back onto his feet with energy and vitality, thunderous applause resounded in the auditorium.
Under the baton of Evelino Pidó, the orchestra (and the chorus; chorus master: Salvo Sgró) of the Teatro alla Scala Academy showed us both fine musicianship and enthusiastic passion. Especially moving was to see the young musicians standing in the pit at the very end for the curtain calls, applauding and cheering. These young people will definitely have to tell their future children and grand-children something. After all, they witnessed a fantastic performance that will go down as such in history, given by an exceptional artist and living legend whose achievements will most likely never be matched by anyone again.
An evening to remember forever
The applause he got for his performance this evening was well deserved – and will make it to La Scala’s history books as well. The cheers were so loud that the singers had to return several times. They thanked the audience with encores. Domingo sang a very touching “Mal per me” (from the Macbeth 1847 version) and also joined the chorus for the Macbeth finale of the 1865 version.
Since the rhythmic clapping would not end even when the orchestra had already left the pit, a visibly moved Domingo returned for a final bow, which made the applause and the chanting even louder. He indicated to the audience to calm down and be silent – and then started to give a thunderous rendition of “No puede ser” (from the zarzuela La tabernera del puerto) in an amazing a capella version, which led to another wave of cheering and applauding. How many much younger singers would be able to do that? Once again he underpinned his exceptional talent and showed why he is so much loved by his audiences, even after 50, 60 years.
Everyone who witnessed that evening knew he/she witnessed history. History alive.