Richard Wagner: Excerpts from  Siegfried and G–tterd”mmerung.
Placido Domingo, tenor (Siegfried); David Cangelosi, tenor (Mime); Natalie Dessay, soprano (Forest Bird) and Violeta Urmana, soprano (Brünnhilde). Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Antonio Pappano, cond
EMI  57242 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:55

This is the second EMI disc featuring tenor Placido Domingo singing excerpts from operas by Wagner. The first, released in 2000, included the great Love Duets from Siegfried and Tristan und Isolde, with soprano Deborah Voigt performing the roles of Brünnhilde and Isolde.

The new disc, recorded in July of 2001, includes the Forging Song, Forest Murmurs  and the conclusion of Act II, all from Siegfried. G–tterd”mmerung excerpts are Dawn, the Love Duet for Siegfried and Brünnhilde, Siegfried's Rhine Journey, and Siegfried's Death and Funeral March.

When Domingo recorded these excerpts he was mid-way through his 61st year, and in the fifth decade of a career that has encompassed some of the most demanding tenor roles in the entire repertoire. Nevertheless, Domingo's voice as documented on this Wagner disc retains virtually all of the warmth and beauty of his early years. I am hard pressed to think of another tenor of comparable age and experience (Beniamino Gigli excepted, perhaps) able to sing with such freedom and youthful timbre. The fact that the music essayed on this disc doesn't range particularly high is certainly a factor to be considered. This EMI Wagner disc is a testament to the intelligence and technique of a musician who has always understood his voice's capabilities and how to play to its strengths.

As for the performances on this disc Domingo fares best in those excerpts that showcase his considerable assets—beauty of tone, flowing legato, and a rather generalized, but compelling vigor. As a result, the Forging Song and the G–tterd”mmerung excerpts offer the most pleasure. Domingo's voice is certainly one of the most attractive to have recorded this repertoire. His musicianship and enthusiasm are likewise commendable.

Less successful are the two excerpts from Act II of Siegfried. Here the tenor is required to perform long stretches of introspective narrative that require a kind of sensitivity usually expected of great lieder performers. Lauritz Melchior's studio recordings of the late 20s and early 30s demonstrate the kinds of magical effects that can be achieved in these narratives. Domingo's far less specific approach, while tonally attractive, fails to bring this music to life. 

Violeta Urmana, Natalie Dessay, and David Cangelosi are all worthy contributors to this project. Antonio Pappano's conducting generates plenty of excitement, as well as lyrical beauty where appropriate. The recorded sound is impressive, but with a kind of artificial "larger than life" quality that I find off-putting. I would welcome the opportunity to hear Mr. Pappano conduct this music in the more realistic perspective afforded in the opera house.

Under the right circumstances this could have been a superb disc, as opposed to the qualified success it is. Nevertheless I am sure that Domingo's admirers will gain much pleasure from hearing this tenor in music he has not previously recorded. It is also of general interest to hear a beautiful voice essaying music often relegated to more "leather-lunged" exponents. But for true greatness in Siegfried's music, the Melchior discs remain unsurpassed.

K.M. (May 2002)