Verdi Gala in Paris, 18 January, 2019
Arturo Chacón-Cruz, tenor
Plácido Domingo, baritenor
Rafał Siwek, bass
Belgian National Orchestra
Conductor: Eugene Kohn
The Grande Salle Pierre Boulez at the Philharmonie de Paris is one of the biggest concert halls in Europe. In can seat a maximum of 3,650 people (e.g. for pop concerts) when all its retractable seats and tiers are removed. For classical concerts, it has a capacity of 2,400 seats, located not only in the orchestra stalls, but also on floating balconies around and behind the stage. The acoustic design redirects the sound in multiple directions.
For the singers this is difficult to handle, but it provides the majority of the audience with an exciting experience.
I witnessed this during the “Verdi Gala”, performed on 18 January 2019. That evening was not only an homage to Verdi, but also one to Plácido Domingo, whose French fans often complain that he too seldom sings in their country. He was joined on stage by Russian soprano Irina Lungu, Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz and Polish bass Rafał Siwek. Eugene Kohn conducted the Belgian National Orchestra.
The programme (see below) was quite ambitious. Instead of going easy on the singers by giving them Verdi’s well-known “operatic earworms” and going for a guaranteed success, the mix contained some really challenging pieces.
Plácido Domingo opened after the overture of Un giorno di regno. He was greeted by thunderous applause, and he absolutely justified this “praise in advance”. He was in tremendous vocal shape, singing so powerfully that we – sitting in row 2 – were literally pushed back into our seats by the fullness of the resonance. Throughout the evening, he evoked this almost magical feeling every time he took to the stage. Interestingly, people sitting at the back of the orchestra stalls or even on balconies generally confirmed this experience as well. They apparently tried to find out where the amplifiers were positioned, but there were none to be found. It was just Domingo’s natural voice that reached out to the farthest seats with almost superhuman-sounding power.
Double layer diaphragm
It is hard to describe – his voice sounded as if he had a “double layer diaphragm” with its own resonating body. Even the low notes were carried out to the back seats.
Indeed, after more than 50 years of singing he has such a tremendous wealth of experience, knowledge and technique that it does not matter in which “register” he sings. It is not a “high baritone”, nor a “low tenor” – it is simply THE Domingo: ageless, unrivalled, a stage animal with an immense feeling for (not only) Verdian style. In short, unique. It is almost unbelievable that he will turn 78 in a few days, as he is not getting any slower, weaker or less interesting. No doubt, it was him who filled the huge hall to the last seat, even though the entire cast was very good.
Arturo Chacón-Cruz and Irina Lungu are both former winners of Domingo’s “Operalia” contest. They keep performing at a high level on international stages. Their performances were different, though. While Lungu has a very good technique, I often felt that her voice lacked a kind of characteristic, individual note. It is a beautiful instrument which she handles almost flawlessly, but at times it sounds a bit cold and too technical. Nevertheless, she delivered a great performance and was warmly applauded.
Arturo Chacón-Cruz sometimes struggles with technique, but he makes up for this with a very warm-hearted performance that makes you forget the (minor) flaws. His “Quando le sere al placido” was sung with such heartfelt passion that it was hard to not get swept up by his emotion. His voice has a very characteristic, warm timbre, which glows all the more when he does not try to push it. Once he relaxes, one gets carried away listening to him.
It was the first time I heard bass Rafał Siwek live – and I really liked what I heard. He has a very interesting voice colour, which I would describe as “blackish with a touch of bronze”. It does not lose its power or its magic in the very low notes, which he demonstrated in Fiesco’s prayer “Il lacerato spirito”. His facial expressions were fascinating. When he came on stage, he had the look of a rascal on his face, “smiling with his eyes”. But as soon as he was into his various roles (mostly evil, of course), his eyes turned into maliciously sparkling weapons. I am eager to hear him in a complete opera in future. On this evening, he made a remarkable impression on me. Also, his voice’s power was quite impressive.
Interestingly, the singers later reported that the acoustics for themselves felt rather strange, they could barely hear their own voices and were insecure about how their voices would project to the audience. Given that fact, Eugene Kohn has to be thanked for his supporting the singers very carefully. He had not an easy job, because I had the feeling that the Belgian National Orchestra was playing bouncy, but sometimes a bit too nonchalantly. A few disproportionally loud or misplaced notes here and there underscored that impression.
However – it was a singers’ evening, anyway. And mainly an evening of Domingo without any doubt. He was carried by a wave of enthusiasm, from the first loud welcome applause to the last glowing standing ovations. Once again he proved his reputation as “King of Opera” is still justified. Verdi would for sure have been pleased.
Overture Un giorno di regno
“Perfidi… Pietà, rispetto, amore” (Macbeth, act 4) – PD
“A te l’estremo addio… Il lacerato spirito” (Simon Boccanegra, prologue) – RS
“Mercè dilette amiche” – (I Vespri Siciliani, act 5) – IL
“Restate… O signor, di Fiandra arrivo” (Don Carlo, act 1) – PD/RS
“Forse la soglia attinse… Ma se m’è forza perderti” (Un ballo in maschera act 3, scene 2) – ACC
“Valse” (Macbeth/ballett) – Orchestra
“Padre, ricevi l’estremo addio” (Luisa Miller, act 3) – all soloists
Ouverture I Vespri Siciliani – orchestra
“Sogno, o son desto ?… Quando al mio sen” (I Vespri Siciliani, act 3) – ACC/PD
“È strano… Ah, fors’è lui… Sempre libera” (La Traviata, act 1) – IL
“Son io, mio Carlo… Per me giunto” (Don Carlo, act 3) – ACC/PD
“Oh ! Fede negar potessi… Quando le sere al placido” (Luisa Miller, act 2) – ACC
“Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima… Oltre quel limite” (Attila, act 1) – RS
“Udiste… Mira, di acerbe lagrime” (Il Trovatore, act 4) – PD/IL
Encore (different composers):
Tosca: E lucevan le stelle – ACC
Il barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia – RS
Gianni Schicchi: O, mio babbino caro – IL
Andrea Chénier: Nemico della patria – PD
Gabi Eder (Published January 21st, 2019)