Domingo and Radvanovsky Deliver the Magic at Black Creek

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A very well filled Rexall Centre awaiting the arrival of the soloists (photo: Joseph K. So)

Tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky weaved their magic on a (cold) summer night at the Black Creek Summer Music Festival (Photo: Joseph K. So)
by Joseph K. So
Black Creek Summer Music Festival Inaugural Gala Concert
Placido Domingo, ten.
Sondra Radvanovsky, sop.
Black Creek Festival Orchestra and Chorus
Eugene Kohn, cond.
Rexall Centre, Toronto
June 4, 8 pm. 2011
Opening Cavalleria Rusticana (Chorus)
“O Souverain” from Le Cid (Domingo)
Bolero from I vespri Siciliani (Radvanovsky & Chorus)
“Favella il Doge” from Simon Boccanegra (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“La mamma morta” from Andrea Chenier (Radvanovsky)
“Nemico della patria” from Andrea Chenier (Domingo)
Triumphal March from Aida (Chorus)
“Gia nella notte denza” from Otello (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“Mira, d’acerbe lagrime” from Il Trovatore (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“Poet and Peasant Overture” von Suppe (Orchestra)
“Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific (Domingo)
“I could have danced all night” (Radvanovsky)
“Tonight” from West Side Story (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“I want to be a Prima Donna” (Radvanovsky)
“Musica Prohibita” (Domingo)
“O sole mio” (Radvanovsky)
“Non ti scordar di me” (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“No puede ser” (Domingo)
” Vissi d’arte” (Radvanovsky)
“Besame mucho” (Domingo)
“Somewhere over the rainbow” (Radvanovsky)
“Granada” (Domingo)
“Lippen schweigen (in English) (Domingo & Radvanovsky)
“Hallelujah” (Domingo conducting, with Radvanovsky and Kohn joining the Chorus)
+ Fireworks to End
A year in planning, the high profile Black Creek Summer Music Festival had its inaugural concert last evening at the Rexall Centre. A great deal was at stake. It was by far the largest scale summer music series the Toronto area has seen, with the highest profile artists from the fields of classical, pop, jazz, country, and Broadway. The event that kicked off the Festival starred mega-star tenor Placido Domingo in his first visit to the GTA in a dozen years. The weather had been good most of the week, but we woke up to a pouring rain and driving wind. As if on cue, even the weather gods cooperated – by the afternoon, it had cleared and the audience didn’t have to sit in wet seats or worse, shiver in a downpour. Yes, it was unseasonably cold and a bit windy, but given our unpredictable spring, Torontonians would gladly put up with this little bit of discomfort. More problematic was the chaotic traffic conditions that led to the concert being held up for 30 minutes so attendees could make their way from their cars to the stadium. The Rexall Centre, with one third of the seats at one end closed with the stage on court level, was surprising intimate due to the amphitheatre design. I have attended many al fresco concerts in the past both in the States and in Europe, and this venue is better than most and much preferable to some of the open air ones in Munich for example (Koenigsplatz and Odeonplatz come readily to mind) where the openness meant poor, diffused sound. The amphitheatre also meant the wind was substantially reduced. The staging area was set up to the highest professional standards with a superb sound system and multiple stationery and roving video cameras. The concert was streamed live on the internet to an international audience for a fee of $15. Needless to say this was the most elaborate and high-tech classical event Toronto has seen a long time. Would the hugely elaborate production suggest that at some point, we can expect a release of the event on commercially available DVD?
The evening began with the Prelude and Chorus to Cavalleria Rusticana, which the audience dutifully applauded. Let’s face it – they were there to hear the two stars rather than what the pick-up Black Creek Orchestra and Chorus could do. In particular the audience in the well-filled Rexall Centre was there to hear Placido Domingo. When he came out, a roar of cheering erupted. He started with a popular “set piece” for dramatic tenors from Caruso to Heppner, and of course Domingo – “O souverain” from Massenet’s Le Cid. For a singer who has been in front of the public 50 of his 70 years, the only way to describe his vocal estate is ‘miraculous’. The timbre is fresh and youthful, and he sounds better than most tenors half his age. There is a natural darkening of the sound with the passage of time, the tone is a burnished gold nowadays. Domingo began as a baritone so the extreme high notes, like the C, was never his forte. Now he has migrated to an increasing number of baritone roles. In this concert, the Le Cid aria and the love duet from Act 1 Otello were the only two tenor pieces he attempted. Midway through the duet, the pitch was transposed down a semitone so the he didn’t have to deal with the long held high A at the end. Purist may quibble but personally I much rather hear this great singer operate within his comfort zone than to have him struggle with a note. And he sang the duet brilliantly, with plenty of lovely mezza voce and a ringing top. Among the other solo pieces he sang, “Nemico della patria” from Andrea Chenier was a standout, delivered with passion and intensity. The role of Carlos Gerard fits Domingo like a glove – let’s hope he will add this to his repertoire soon. The tenor also sang a number of “pop” pieces, like “Some Enchanted Evening” with his trademark pleasantly accented English. As a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, Domingo sang “Musica Prohibita”, a piece made famous by the great Caruso.
Sharing a stage with Domingo was Sondra Radvanovsky, the best Verdi soprano in front of the public today. She combines a phenomenal technique with silvery, full-bodied tone and a glorious upper extension. Her Bolero from Vespri Siciliani showed off her sparkling coloratura. The extended duet of her Amelia opposite the Simon of Domingo was one of the highlights of the evening – the tenor caressed the phrases beautifully and sang the soft passages with security and feeling. “La mama morta” from Andrea Chenier is written very much in the middle voice, and Radvanovsky rich and solid middle makes her a ideal Maddalena. I don’t think this role is in her repertoire, as she sings very few verismo heroines, but this is one that suits her beautifully.
The formal part of the program came to an end with “Non ti scordar di me” sung as a duet. The enraptured audience wasn’t about to let the two artists go without several encores. The ovations were so warm and vociferous that the singers were called back again and again. In the end there were a total of eight (!) encores. Radvanovsky’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ is a lesson in beauty of tone, legato phrasing and technical control. The two joined forces in Lippen schweigen from Giuditta, and finally, Domingo took the baton and led the orchestra and chorus in a joyous rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, joined by the soprano and the conductor Eugene Kohn! As if that wasn’t enough, the evening ended with spectacular fireworks. I think it would be hard to top this in the future, but I am sure Black Creek Summer Music Festival will have more surprises for us this summer. Stay tuned!

About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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