By reaching into his voluminous list of contacts, Los Angeles Opera general director Placido Domingo came up with a truly memorable gala concert to celebrate the company’s 20th, putting on a show that glittered with star turns and artistic depth. It was an entertainment, a promotional blurb, a history lesson, a seminar on singing, a sampler of the company’s production capabilities, and a tour de force for its well-connected, multitalented general director — all in one package.
The history lesson came first in the form of a fully staged performance of Act IV of Verdi’s “Otello” — the first work L.A. Opera performed back in October 1986. No, this wasn’t the dark, original Goetz Friedrich production; rather, it was a minimal yet cleverly stage-filling collection of drapes backing Desdemona’s bed chambers. But we did see the original Otello, Placido Domingo, singing what many believe is his signature role perhaps for the last time in this city.
With this excerpt, you miss the tremendous cumulative impact that Domingo’s portrayal had over four acts, and he didn’t get much help from Eugene Kohn’s routine conducting. Yet at 65, Domingo’s Otello sounds miraculously intact — vocally secure, conserving power and now with even deeper, sorrowful shadings.
With Patricia Racette as a moving, limpidly sung Desdemona, it was a touching performance — especially when Domingo arrived at the perhaps prophetic line, “Here is my journey’s end.”
Act II of Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” was party time — literally, for the entire act is a party scene, often featuring an interpolated “gala sequence” made to order for gala concerts.
Here, the “plot” disappears as guest artists playing themselves perform numbers of their own choosing — often not from opera — and here, the depth and star power of Domingo’s contacts came into play.
From Broadway turf, Ruth Ann Swenson gave a ravishing rendition of “This Is My Beloved” from “Kismet,” and Mark Delavan offered a mellifluous, if swagger-less take on the “Soliloquy” from “Carousel.”
In the tenor wars, Charles Castronovo actually outpointed the much-better-known Roberto Alagna in power and expression. High mark on the star meter: Angela Gheorghiu, looking every inch the radiant diva, dueting with Domingo in “The Merry Widow” waltz and luminously singing a Romanian song, “Muzica.”
Ironically, 2006 is also the 20th anniversary of Domingo’s recording of “Fledermaus” as a conductor (EMI) — and on Wednesday night, it was clear how much Domingo’s conducting skills have sharpened since; his Strauss has far more life and crispness and a better feeling for rubato.
Rod Gilfry was a debonair Eisenstein; Sarah Coburn a fluttery, delightful Adele (the only soloist not thrown by Domingo’s quick tempo in the “Champagne” song); and Lucy Schaufer, in male drag as Prince Orlofsky, was handed a localized version of “Chacun a son gout” that playfully sent up L.A. while delivering a fund-raising pitch for the company.