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Monday, February 21, 2011

CD Review: Domingo's Verismo Hat Trick

The Hat Squad: Placìdo Domingo, Angela Gheorgiu, conductor Alberto Veronese
Photo © 2008 Universal Classics/Deutsche Grammophon
Placìdo Domingo adds the umpteenth recorded role (actually his 35th or 36th, I've lost count) to his repertory with this stellar recording of Fedora, an almost-forgotten opera by Umberto Giordano, the verismo composer whose best known work remains Andrea Chenier.

This set from Deutsche Grammophon, (recorded in January of 2008) is the tenor's third collaboration with conductor Alberto Veronesi, the innovative Italian maestro who is digging up lost operas by important composers in the early 20th century. Some of these works (Puccini's Edgar) are early products of the composer. Others (Leoncavallio's I Medici) were the beginnings of ambitious Wagnerian projects that never reached fruition.

Fedora is neither of these. Written in 1898, it is a sort of a cousin to Tosca, although the Puccini opera came out two years later. Both works are based on plays by Victorien Sardou. Sardou wrote both parts: Fedora Romazova and Floria Tosca for the divine French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Because of its theatrical heritage and the Tosca connection, the role is something of a favorite with divas who can handle its difficulties and sing the opera's libretto with a straight face. Renata Tebaldi recorded it, and Mirella Freni chose Fedora as her final bow at the Met.

Here, the Countess is played by Angela Gheorghiu. The Romanian soprano swoops through the role, coming across as a blend of aloofness and passion. She is at her best in the last act, when the showpiece aria "La montanini mia" allows her voice to bloom. This is not the most distinguished performance of the role--it lacks the fire of a Tebaldi or a Freni, but it is a good performance. And the pairing  with Mr. Domingo makes for interesting listening.

The role of Loris has been a favorite of Mr. Domingo's for many years. In fact, he has preserved it before, on the  Met DVD opposite Mirella Freni. On this recording, he sings with the same freshness and vitality that he brought to the other projects in Maestro Veronesi's series. He is clearly enthusiastic about playing the role of a nobleman turned nihilist hitman, and skates blithely over the absurdities and anachronisms of the opera's libretto.

Considering that Mr. Domingo made this recording two years ago, his tenor range is intact. The voice has darkened over the past two decades, but he still pulls out the top drawer of high notes when the work calls for them. This is a canny tenor making the most of his remaining resources and his knowledge of the studio to deliver an exciting performane that he might not be able to reproduce onstage. His Act I reading of "Amor ti Vieta" makes one reach for the back button to hear it twice.

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