Originally created 03/31/04

Placido Domingo takes risks 'in a humble way'



NEW YORK -- There were once The Three Tenors. Now, there's only The One - still singing splendidly.

On Monday night at the Metropolitan Opera, Placido Domingo starred in the season opener of Wagner's five-hour musical marathon, "Die Walkure."

"As the years pass, the passion and the dedication is still there - but there's more anxiety now because you know that you have less time, you have fewer years to sing. And so, you give your best," the 63-year-old Spaniard told The Associated Press in his dressing room during the final rehearsal.

Domingo's vocal endurance defies nature - especially in the powerhouse role of Wagner's Siegmund, the doomed hero longing for love, even amid the incest and adultery of this story rooted in ancient tales of gods and humans.

Another of The Three Tenors, 68-year-old Luciano Pavarotti, bid farewell to the Met earlier this month. The Italian singer said it was his last appearance in staged opera.

Spanish tenor Jose Carreras, at 57 a sporadic performer, completed the trio that popularized opera by singing in packed mega-venues to live television audiences. There are no current plans for the three to peform together again.

The staples of Domingo's four-decade career were great Italian and French roles, with forays into popular songs and lighter music in his native Spanish.

But this season at the Met, he again thwarts critics who warned that he would ruin his lyric voice by taking on Wagner's heavier, technically challenging music, as well as Verdi's taxing "Otello," which Domingo has turned into the role's signature rendition of our time.

On Monday, in the Ottoschenk production of "Die Walkure," a fit, dynamic Domingo appeared in a leather-and-metal costume as the mythical forest character who falls in love with Sieglinde - neither knowing they are siblings and the mortal children of the god Wotan.

Staying in shape "cost me a lot," says the tenor, who watches his weight while eating at Pampano, the new Mexican restaurant he co-owns on Manhattan's Upper East Side, a short walk from his apartment.

Weight became a professional problem for Deborah Voigt, the American soprano who sang with Domingo on Monday - her first stage appearance since her contract for a role at London's Royal Opera House was canceled due to her size.

"I'm sorry, but when it comes to extraordinary voices like Deborah Voigt, you forget about that," said Domingo. "She's so absolutely beautiful."

Voigt, with her powerful, silvery voice soaring through "Du bist der Lenz" ("You are spring"), joined Domingo for a love scene that takes up most of the hour-plus long Act I.

Verdi and Puccini - whom Domingo calls "my composers" - wrote love duets lasting six or seven minutes at most, the singer noted with a grin. "The Italian composers go straight to the point, but with Wagner, you have to go about 40 minutes! He takes a lot of time for love."

With Domingo and Voigt as possibly the world's best Siegmund and Sieglinde, it was a feast of luminous voices.

James Morris, whose once consistently fine bass has faltered in recent years, was at his peak as a rich-voiced Wotan, and English soprano Jane Eaglen delivered an exhilarating Brunnhilde, Wotan's daughter who sides with her siblings against their father.

Wotan kills Siegmund and punishes BrJunnhilde by putting her to sleep in a circle of fire.

Met artistic director James Levine, who for years has nurtured Domingo and Voigt in Wagnerian roles. conducted the Met orchestra for the stellar cast that packed the Met's nearly 4,000 seats.

Perhaps Domingo's one weakness in Wagner is his slightly Latin-tinged German diction. But there's an upside: his romantic ardor, coupled with a honey-voiced warmth rarely heard outside the Italian repertoire.

In the "Wintersturme" ("Winter storms") duet with Voigt, the ravishing combination of tenor and soprano shimmered with tenderness as Siegmund wonders at the blossoming of his stormy life.

Then came the moment when Siegmund discovers his true identity - a heart-wrenching monologue to Sieglinde, "Nun weisst Du..." ("Now you know..."), which Domingo sang as a doomed lover's lament.

At the other end of the decibel scale, the tenor charged "Vereint sind Liebe und Lenz" ("United are love and spring") with a radiant vocal fire.

Domingo says he has built his voice "brick by brick," starting as a baritone in his youth and gradually working his way to a high C.

Having sung major Wagner roles including Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tannhauser, Domingo plans to record the fiendish tenor part in "Tristan and Isolde" next year in London.

"I take my risks in a humble way," he said before heading back to the Met stage. "I don't have so much time to sing anymore. So I enjoy it, and I have steady plans for another three years, and talking further."

But, he adds with a shrug and a smile, "nothing is guaranteed in this life. At any moment, I might not be able to sing anymore."