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Domingo Celebrates Birthday at Met

January 23, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) _ Placido Domingo celebrated his 60th birthday by joining fellow tenor Luciano Pavarotti and some of opera’s finest voices in a three-hour program at the Metropolitan Opera.

Domingo’s powerful, subtle voice could still be the envy of any young singer _ and is perhaps better than it was a decade ago.

At the peak of his artistry and at ease, he sang two pieces Sunday that sum up his musical persona: a Spanish love song from the popular tradition of his singer parents, and the death scene from Verdi’s ``Otello.″

A hushed house heard him deliver the latter work with dramatic fervor and a vocal mastery that ranged from intense pianissimos to full-throttle, yet refined, tones.

Later, soprano Deborah Voigt added her ravishing, powerhouse voice to Domingo’s for a scene from Verdi’s ``Il Trovatore,″ and she sang the solo letter scene from Verdi’s ``Macbeth.″ Unfortunately, her Italian diction was not on a par.

The cast also included baritone Thomas Hampson and bass Samuel Ramey, and three Russian vocal stars, mezzo sopranos Olga Borodina and Elena Zaremba, and bass Sergei Koptchak.

Pavarotti, 65, who currently sings with Voigt in the Met’s ``Aida,″ threw a curveball dictated by his own diminishing voice. Instead of singing the planned aria ``Quando le sere al placido″ from Verdi’s ``Luisa Miller,″ he stuck a hand in his pocket and launched into the brief ``La donna e mobile″ from ``Rigoletto,″ ending with a strained high note.

Mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade, a Met star for almost as long as Domingo, sang a Jacques Offenbach tune in French _ and suddenly inserted an English text: ``We adore you Placido, and wish you a happy birthday.″

The Met orchestra, led by James Levine, was quicksilver, the harmonies pouring like honey from the brass.

Finally, the orchestra struck up ``Happy Birthday,″ accompanied by thousands in the audience, including Domingo’s wife, Marta.

At the end of the gala, the tenor joked: ``I’m not afraid to be 60. When the years pass, you really are younger. ... You have accumulated youth! I feel young in my soul and spirit.″

With 118 roles, about 600 Met appearances and a record 18 Met opening nights, Domingo is also conductor and artistic director of the Los Angeles and Washington operas.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gave the Spanish singer the symbolic keys to the city and declared Sunday Placido Domingo Day.

``Placido decided to be a bullfighter, but he got battered. So he thought, better tomatoes than horns, and changed direction,″ the mayor joked from the stage.

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