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Placido Domingo (Greg Gorman / handout)
Placido Domingo (Greg Gorman / handout)

Music: Concert review

Placido Domingo dazzles an early summer night Add to ...

Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival

  • Placido Domingo
  • Sondra Radvanovsky
  • Rexall Centre in Toronto on Saturday

Placido Domingo is 70. I had to keep reminding myself of this fact as the great Spanish-Mexican tenor sang an open-air concert with the kind of power, range and finesse that many singers decades younger would love to have.

A few other mind-blowing facts: Domingo made his professional opera debut 50 years ago, has sung over 130 lyric and dramatic roles, and did his first Lucia di Lammermoor (as he revealed during a media event on Thursday) opposite Lily Pons, who debuted the title role at the Met in 1931. Between engagements as a tenor, conductor or even baritone (he debuted the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in 2009 ), he has been running Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera as those companies’ general director.

His mainly Italian program at a tennis stadium near York University stayed clear of the most well-worn paths, offering a smartly curated selection of solo numbers and dramatic scenes with soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, an operatic power in her own right. I’ve spent entire evenings in an opera house that have yielded fewer thrills than this pair’s rendition of Favella il doge…Figlia, a tal nome from Boccanegra, or of Verdi’s intimate Gia nella notte densa, from Otello.

On his own – or rather, with the expert accompaniment of conductor Eugene Kohn, leading a pickup orchestra and choir – Domingo made a powerful showing in O, souverain! from Massenet’s Le Cid, and in the baritone monologue Nemico della patria, from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. Radvanovsky’s greatest solo moments came in La mamma morta, also from Chénier, though this superb dramatic soprano also surprised me with her comic talents in Victor Herbert’s I Want to Be a Prima Donna, during the concert’s lighter second half of numbers from light opera and Broadway.

The show, the first of the Capital One BlackCreek Summer Music Festival, had to be amplified to reach all of the 8,000 people who braved cool, cloudy weather to sit in the uncovered stands, or on a temporary floor in front of a portable stage. From where I sat, nine rows back, I should have been getting some sound direct from the stage, but even so, there was a cold metallic resonance to the amplification, especially noticeable when the choir sang, or during Roman Borys’s cello solo in La mamma morta, or any time the orchestra played a crisp tutti chord.

There was also the overhead rumble that interrupted every aria, sometimes more than once, as planes approached the runways of nearby Pearson International Airport. The Rexall Centre, which a program note fancifully described as being “in the centre of Toronto,” also has a serious ground transportation problem: There’s only one narrow access road, which became so clogged with traffic before the show that the start had be delayed by 30 minutes.

None of that bodes well for a festival that also includes an incredible three concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra (Aug. 27 – 30), which in the current market might be hard-pressed to sell out Roy Thomson Hall (capacity 2,600) even once. As for the pop acts in its lineup, such as James Taylor and Lionel Richie, BlackCreek may have a tough slog in the face of the Molson Amphitheatre’s newly announced $99 “mega-ticket,” which gets you nine similar shows (by the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Steely Dan) right downtown for 11 bucks each.

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