June 15, 2014

Suggested roles for Placido Domingo

You have to admire a guy like Placido Domingo. After a lengthy career as a world-class tenor and the resultant wear-and-tear on his voice, did he retire to a secluded villa for a life of ease? Nope. Did he attempt to become an orchestral conductor or opera-company administrator?

Well, yes - with spotty results. But that's not my point.

No, the astonishingly admirable thing is that Domingo, his tenorial chops permanently frayed, continued his on-stage performing career. Like a baseball pitcher who, having lost his fastball, finds success on the mound by learning the knuckle ball, Domingo turned to the baritone repertoire and plowed ahead with singing gigs. Rigoletto, Boccanegra, the elder Germont, Count di Luna; one after another the baritone roles have been falling like dominos.

Now, to my ears, it's all a bit iffy because being a baritone isn't just a question of hitting all the notes of a role; it's also a question of timbre, weight, tone color and so on. I hear a tenor woofing around in roles with, let's just say, "inauthentic" results. But that's just me, and hey - a guy has to make a living, right?

The problem is that none of us can outwit Father Time, and eventually even baritone roles will prove too much for our aging icon to handle. But why should that stop him? A galaxy of roles within his compass will still be available! Here are just a few:

Another potential Wall in The Fantasticks
  • The Wall in the classic musical The Fantasticks (Yes, that's an actual role. Look it up.)
  • Buoso Donati, the dead guy in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. 
  • Toby, the mute boy in Menotti's The Medium
  • The Little Boy in Act 2 of La Boheme who plaintively wails that he wants a trumpet and a toy horse.
  • The Jailor in Tosca whose entire role consists of the summons "E l'ora".
  • The Page in Der Rosenkavalier, or alternately,
  • One of the children claiming Baron Ochs as their daddy in Rosenkavalier. The only vocal lines are a few iterations of "papa". You'd have to be in a bad way not to be able to pull that off...
  • King Duncano in Verdi's Macbeth. Yeah, another mute part, but a cool costume and an important role, plot-wise. Domingo, with his stage presence, could really bring some regal authority to Duncan's scene.
  • The Big Monster-Dragon Thing in The Magic Flute. And if it's done via one of those costumes requiring two people, i.e. one for the tail end and one for the front, well obviously don't put Domingo in the tail. I mean, this is Placido Domingo we're talking about. He's an icon, for Pete's sake - let him be the head.
  • The Prince of Persia in Turandot. One caveat: the Prince is, technically, a tenor, and his one line, delivered a moment before his beheading, consists of bleating Turandot's name for all he's worth on a high note. However, if Domingo experienced a vocal failure, this could be explained by, you know, the axe severing his neck and stuff.
And finally, if I ever realize my dream of adapting the movie Weekend at Bernie's into a full-length opera, you KNOW I'm going to offer Placido the chance to create the role of Bernie.

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