It’s unprecedented, but then almost everything about Plácido Domingo’s later career is unprecedented. Still singing in his 70s, he is embarking on a journey through Verdi’s baritone roles, on stage and now in the recording studio.
The technique remains formidable and all the more so for appearing effortless: the master of legato in ‘Di Provenza’ from La traviata, the ringing top at the end of the cabaletta to ‘Urna fatale’ from La forza del destino or the soft-grained tone in the middle section of ‘Eri tu che’ in Un ballo in maschera. Verdi himself would surely have applauded the expressivity of such singing where character is all. But then, as Rigoletto, Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra remind us, it was the baritone voice that accelerated Verdi’s dramatic imagination.
However, no one should pretend this voice is what it was: it is showing its age, sounding most secure in the middle register. So a deeply felt Cortigiani from Rigoletto is slightly marred by curdled tone in the final phrases and Domingo is almost unrecognisable at the start of the Count di Luna’s ‘Il balen’, with what sounds like manufactured chest tone. His Simon Boccanegra is uneven, too; he sounds ill at ease and exposed in the central section of the opera’s second scene. It’s tempting to compare Domingo’s Simon to Angel Joy Blue’s soaring Amelia. Yet, I can’t imagine not having this recording on the shelf. Think about Domingo’s Verdi as ‘late work’, the distillation of a remarkable artistic life, and you may agree.