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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

How Domingo Killed the Three Tenors

By Norman Lebrecht / February 22, 2006

Universal relief will greet the news that the Three Tenors have sung their last football chant. This June, at the World Cup in Germany, Placido Domingo will be going it alone or, rather, hogging the stage with a very different line-up from the one that has graced every quadrennial football final since the virtually scoreless summer of 1990.

Ignoring a prolonged series of public overtures from Luciano Pavarotti - now past 70 and hungry for one last payday as well as the media bleatings of a near-forgotten Jose Carreras, Domingo has decisively stamped his size-sixes onto every musical event of the soccer jamboree and established an unparalleled monopoly.

He will kick off the tournament in Munich's Olympic stadium on June 6, backed by the city's three orchestras the State Opera, Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio and their formidable conductors Zubin Mehta, Christian Thielemann and Mariss Jansons. Lower down the bill will be the heavy-handed Chinese pianist Lang Lang and the current superblonde German soprano, Diana Damrau.

A month later, after a run of Wagner in Tokyo and zarzuela in Madrid, Domingo will return for the climax of the cup to sing a solo show in Hamburg's Rothenbaum stadium followed, two nights before the final, by an open-air triple-bill in Berlin's Waldbuehne, partnered by the slinky Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and the Mexican tenor with the male-model looks, Rolando Villazon.

No matter who wins the football, Placido Domingo will walk away from Germany 2006 as the richest and most powerful operatic personage on earth. Where the Three Tenors carved up the record business between them in royalty deals worth more than 40 million dollars, Domingo now has the game all to himself.

Pavarotti, on his never-ending farewell tour, barely made a bottom line on the back pages when he opened the Winter Olympics in Turin the week before last. Carreras, the youngest of the trio, has gone on BBC World's Hard Talk to insist that it was only 'a number of circumstances' beyond the tenors' control that kept them out of the World Cup. They might, he suggests, still get together for one last reunion.

In his dreams. Domingo has got this summer sewn up and, beyond that, the singing future. As director of the opera houses of Los Angeles and Washington D.C. he has powers of patronage and prejudice over other singers while, at 64, continuing to assert a primacy over any role he cares to nominate. In Ring cycles at the Met and Covent Garden, he has shown that the voice has lost none of its vigour or beauty while acquiring added warmth and softness, like a well-worn leather glove.

He is singing Cyrano de Bergerac at both houses this spring, an opera by the also-ran Franco Alfano that has lain fallow for half a century thanks in no small part to an idiotic plot about a poet-warrior with a bulbous nose that makes women flee into the arms of an inferior tenor. Such is Domingo's magnetism that London tickets are virtually unobtainable and New York awaits his belated appearance he missed the first run last month with a bad throat with something resembling bated breath. Still, no matter what tricks are pulled out of a Freudian hat by director Francesca Zambello, the only reason this piffle is being produced at all is a request from Domingo. That, in opera, amounts to absolute power.

By the same token, his choice of Villazon and Netrebko for the World Cup finals is a flagrant attempt to settle the operatic succession. Villazon, 34 this week, shares deep Mexican roots with Domingo. Netrebko, also 34, has been propelled so fast by Valery Gergiev that she has been cancelling recitals lately on the grounds that she was 'not ready' often a sign of career disarray. The pair were first brought together by Domingo as Romeo and Juliet in Los Angeles and, despite their inexperience, are being groomed as the new power couple to replace Angela Georghiu and Roberto Alagna, whose tiresome antics never matched their voltage.

With these fledglings in tow, Domingo will be the crowning event this summer that kills the Three Tenors brand stone dead and confirms in telly-glued eyes the importance of being Placido in a world beyond Pavarotti. Or so the plan goes.

But while victory celebrations in the Domingo camp have begun before a ball is kicked, nails are being bitten in the upper echelons of the music business as to whether one tenor and his twin cubs can fire the imagination and set the tills ringing in quite the same way as the three top note hitters of their epoch. The relief is not altogether universal, after all.

Domingo, music moguls fear, brings nothing new to the party. He is intelligent, versatile, fluent in six languages and charming whenever he feels like turning it on. He is also relentlessly mercenary. When I once reproached him for cancelling operas in order to make another tawdry million singing in the park, he protested: 'I don't take anything out of my opera performances why should I be criticised?' Like modern footballers, the three tenors set a new standard in earning unimaginable amounts of money for doing very little.

Together, however, they were unique. The morning after their first televised concert in the baths of Caracalla, near Rome, I was phoned by a veteran of 1920s opera in Berlin who insisted he had never seen such a phenomenal display of singing technique in his long life. Although they avoided direct vocal comparison in a duet or trio until the closing Nessun Dorma medley, what excited viewers was the extreme contrast between the three men in every aspect physique, temperament and sonority. There was no chance to get bored because the next tenor would look and sound so different.

Stage centre was the huge Italian with the white hankie and the home advantage. The Three Tenors was as much a sporting event as an artistic one. It was, for every second of its seventy minutes, visibly competitive.

That engagement will be missing this summer. Domingo, though he may have won the match, will sing unchallenged and send us to sleep. The Three Tenors lit up the world. One on his own is just another gig. We will, I feel sure, not see their like again.

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001