Having marked his 15th anniversary as the WNO’s artistic director earlier this month, Placido Domingo makes his final appearance as the company leader in the role of Oreste in Emilio Sagi’s production of Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride.

Domingo and Mathey © Scott Suchman
Domingo and Mathey
© Scott Suchman

The part is a fine choice for the artist. Even though the role lacks the catchy hits that both Pylade and Iphigenie’s parts are famous for, its dramatic value is not to be underestimated. And drama is what Domingo does best. His rich and complex voice penetrates every listener’s heart. His emotional acting is genuine and most heartfelt. Strong and fearless, he stands up to the creepy inhabitants of the temple, whose riots resemble a never–ending Black Mass. Of course, blood thirsty priestesses in black garments and wreaths, ritual dancers on iron stilts and a choir of furies in red capes and veils can take his life. However, no one will ever be able to break his spirit.

A devoted friend, a loving brother and a remorseful son, Domingo’s dynamic Oreste is a true engine of the opera. He awakens Iphigenie from her emotional slumber and empowers her to act. Passionless and detached in Act 1, Iphigenie, sung by soprano Patricia Racette, gains all the confidence she needs to stand up to and fight with evil. Choosing his own death over the death of his best friend, he thus motivates Pylade, beautifully sung by tenor Shawn Mathey, to pay him back by saving his life.

One would assume that liberation and forgiveness of gods should be welcomed with a heart full of joy. Perhaps they should, but not by Domingo’s Oreste. With an intuition of a true artist, Domingo grasps and develops Gluck’s psychological concept of ‘a tired heart’. Having come through hell, Gluck’s characters frequently immerse themselves into a deep grief of their still vivid memories. A human heart needs to rest and renew itself through tears, before it will be able to feel joy again.

As the temple gates open to eternal light to the triumphant sounds of the final chorus, genuine tears fill Domingo’s eyes. No longer a prisoner of the horrible temple, his Oreste is still a prisoner of his own memories. Some day he will be able to leave this nightmare behind and smile again. Some day…

He might say good-bye to the WNO as its artistic director, but hopefully, not to the world opera as an artist. It goes without saying that Placido Domingo, a legend and a true opera visionary, still has a lot to offer as a musician.