In a week that began with Van Cliburn, ended with the World Cup championship, and included such incidental matters as a collision between the planet Jupiter and a comet, no event was less plausible and more vehemently hyped than the concert that brought together the three most acclaimed contemporary romantic operatic tenors. Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti had crossed the high C’s together before, in a Rome concert in 1990 before the last World Cup. Fate, and the income from the disc and video of that event, decreed a second go-around.
Why implausible? Operatic tenors are unexploded land mines of strutting self-indulgence beside which comets and planets are mere specks of dust. Put three of them together on the same stage, or even on the same continent, and you can expect the fur to fly. Nobody ever wrote an opera calling for three star tenors on the same stage simultaneously, and nobody ever will.
Saturday night’s “Encore” wasn’t an exact rerun of the night at Caracalla. This time the audience faced, not the glory of the Emperor Caracalla’s third-century ruins, but designer Ren Lagler’s lights and pillars and panoramas and waterfalls that transformed Dodger Stadium into the hotel lobby of everyone’s dreams.
With a few exceptions, the program was mostly different from before; after all, the repertory of tonsil-stretching arias, pop tunes and sentimental Italian folk songs runs to many barrelsful.
Given the thunderous hype preceding the event, the breathless publicity prose into which it was all packed — the glittering prospects of TV to the billions, the recording (on Atlantic) due Aug. 29, followed soon after by a “The Making of…” docu, $ 10 program booklets in six lan-
guages, and the glitz of the event itself, mention of musical matters is bound to seem anti-climactic.
Perhaps it’s better that way. Singers who have earned famefor their brilliance in romantic Italian opera are not automatically the most sympathetic avatars of the Broadway show tunes and other lightweight musical pabulum in this something-for-everybody program.
Conductor Zubin Mehta, back at his one-time post fronting the L.A. Philharmonic, and always at his best when cameras are nearby, threw the full weight of photogenic energy into even the undemanding oom-pah-pah of “Come Back to Sorrento.”
However, there were noteworthy moments even in this grossly distended circus. Some were legitimately moving: Domingo ablaze in the “Pagliacci” aria, for one. Others were just silly: The notion of the three singers divvying up the separate phrases of a song, each in turn, was a cute touch — once — in the 1990 concert; this time it became the persistent gimmick in two long pop-tune medleys , and in some of the operatic bits as well.
Imagine, if you can, three non-native-English-speaking blokes leapfrogging through “Singin’ in the Rain,” with the virtual owner of the song, the great Gene Kelly, taking it in out front. Was this what folks expected for their up-to-$ 1,000 tickets? Funny you should ask.