The irrepressible Spanish tenor returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night, three weeks past his 70th birthday, to star in a revival of Gluck's "Iphigenie en Tauride."
The man of 134 roles - including 46 at the Met - in recent years has dropped the lyric, spinto characters that made him famous. At a time when most major singers are living the good retirement life or teaching in conservatories, he has ventured into baritone territory with Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" and Baroque with Handel's "Tamerlano" and Gluck.
Domingo had not sung at the Met since colon cancer surgery last March 2. The operation interrupted his career for just 45 days. For his New York return, he appeared as Oreste with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in the Stephen Wadsworth staging of "Iphigenie" they debuted together in November 2007.
When the production was new, Gluck's 1779 version of Euripides' story was Domingo's first Baroque role since 1966. The opera, a tale of the House of Atreus, had not appeared at the Met in 90 years. It has become more familiar, with Domingo and Graham also singing it in Madrid last month.
Domingo's voice sounded a bit husky in the first half of the 2 1/2-hour performance before opening up after intermission. His Oreste, with long hair and blood on his face, called to mind his Samson from decades ago. Some suspension of belief is required to accept an Oreste of this age. But what Domingo lacks in youthful appearance he makes up for with intensity and impassioned acting. His tenor, with a strong middle register and superior coloration, remains a marvel.
With Iphigenie sent to Tauride and serving as Diane's high priestess, Oreste arrives as a Greek prisoner, and Iphigenie must sacrifice him. After he reveals himself to be Oreste, her brother, he kills the Scythian king Thoas. Oreste is pardoned by Diane, and the siblings embrace as the curtain falls.
Graham's Iphigenie was even more revealing than when the production was new. Her French diction is impeccable, and her warm mezzo sound is endearing, especially in "D'une image helas!" when she sings of her emotional tie to Oreste.
Paul Groves was outstanding with a bright, lively tenor as Pylade, the other prisoner brought in with Oreste. Gordon Hawkins displayed a deep baritone as Thoas, though he seemed to tire near the end. Perky mezzo Julie Boulianne made her Met debut as Diane, descending from the rafters in a punky look of shiny black cap, black wrist cuffs and long, black strappy sandals.
Patrick Summers, music director of the Houston Grand Opera, led a flowing performance from the Met orchestra, far more used to Verdi and Puccini than Gluck. The Feb. 26 matinee of this year's revival will be telecast in high definition to movie theaters around the world.
Last June, three months after surgery, Domingo was quoted in England's The Independent as saying, "I don't want to be 70 and still singing opera. I don't think I will still be singing on 21 January 2011, which is my 70th birthday." Clearly, that didn't happen. He is scheduled for "The Enchanted Island," a staging of Baroque arias from different composers, which opens at the Met this New Year's Eve.
At this rate, could a performance be ruled out on Sept. 28, 2018, the 50th anniversary of his Met debut?