The man is a phenomenon, and the bravos are not for the memories or his history. He still is the finest tenor singing on any world stage today. The revival of Franco Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac at Paris' Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet, for five performances from May 19 to 31, was a clear triumph and that he can still do this at age 68 is something for the history books.
Directing two major operas in America, in Washington D. C. and Los Angeles, no slouch as a conductor and head of the most important of the opera competitions, Operalia, he is also arguably the most powerful man in opera. It was not by accident that the Friday night performance both Dominique Meyer, the director of the Th_ê¢tre des Champs-Elys_es and next year the boss at the Vienna State Opera and Gerard Mortier, the head of the Op_ra National de Paris and taking over the Madrid Opera next season, were among other notables in the audience.
Although he now picks his roles carefully, schedules three days between performances and sometimes misses notes, there is no one else who can inhabit a role with such absolute assurance. Alfano's opera has been a recent vehicle for him and it fits his voice like the proverbial glove. It was successfully revived in 2003 at the Montpellier Festival for Roberto Alagna (who recorded the production later on DVD) but has been a recent favorite of Domingo and he has recently starred as Edmund Rostand's poetic soul with extra-length nose both at the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala. The opera itself, loaded with roles, tells the familiar story with engaging sweep, and the balcony scene alone merits the opera's revival. Whether its lazy romanticism entitles it to a permanent place in the operatic repertory is another question.
The effusive production, by veteran director Petrika Ionesco, was almost Franco Zeffirellian in its scope with jammed stages and swordplay and cannon shots at the drop of a broad-brimmed hat. It was strongly cast, with a warmly received Roxane of rising-star French soprano Nathalie Manfrino. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, as the plain-spoken young lover, acquitted himself well working next to such a legend. The audience warmly applauded two French baritones, Laurent Alvaro (Ragueneau) and Marc Labonnette (De Guiche) and an American one, Franco Pomponi (in the dual roles of Carbon and Valvert). There was strong applause also for bass Christian Helmer (Le Bret) and baritone Fr_d_ric Goncalves (Ligniere).
The first-rate Navarre Symphony Orchestra was imported for the occasion from its Northern Spain home base of Pamplona. Conductor Patrick Fournillie had the richly orchestrated music well in hand - he also conducting the same opera for Domingo at La Scala - and he will be making his debut at the Met with their upcoming production of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman.
Domingo's last appearance in Paris was as conductor for the world premiere of Howard Shore's The Fly in June of last year at the same theater. He will be appearing at Covent Garden in London twice next season, as a tenor in Handel's Tamerlano in March 2010 and as a baritone in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra three months later.
The Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet has been subject to some local criticism the past few years for its more "popular" fare under director Jean-Luc Choplin. The recently announced 2009-10 season has a bit more substance with Bellini's Norma, Mozart's Magic Flute and the Villa-Lobos' comedy, Magdalena, found among productions of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, Sondheim's A Little Night Music, Les Mis_rables and The Sound of Music.
Details can be found at www.chatelet-theatre.com.
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All photos by Marie-Noelle Robert for Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet