Half a century ago, Plácido Domingo sang for the first time at Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu. At that time, Madrid’s Teatro Real couldn’t host operas due to structural problems in the building, and the Liceu was the most important opera house in Spain. So Domingo’s career was initially built on his impressive performances on this stage. The Liceu is in a certain way his home, and it is evident even nowadays, as tickets were sold out long before this concert performance of Thaïs, singing Athänael, a role he added to his repertoire just five years ago.

Plácido Domingo and Nino Machaidze © Antoni Bofill
Plácido Domingo and Nino Machaidze
© Antoni Bofill

Aged 76, it is impressive to see how Domingo is still able to make good music and how his presence on stage can overshadow any other performer. His voice is no longer at its best, but after fifty years performing in the world's main opera houses he knows very well how to deliver musical emotion to the audience from the very first bar.

Athanäel is no short, secondary role. It requires being on-stage almost continuously, depicting a psychology that evolves from absolute security at the beginning (Thaïs is a sinner who needs to be converted to the Christian faith) to doubts until he finally falls in love with her. Although the opera was offered in a concert version, Domingo did not just sing, but moved and behaved as the character would have been required to do in a staged performance. He did so with elegance and effectiveness.

Nino Machaidze © Antoni Bofill
Nino Machaidze
© Antoni Bofill

With Athänael, Domingo gave a remarkable lesson to the younger generation of singers. Next to him, soprano Nino Machaidze and tenor Celso Albelo looked comfortable, self-confident. Both of them have built strong careers in recent years. Listening to Albelo sing Nicias was a pleasure, considering that it is not the kind of role a tenor of his category would choose if he just wanted to receive massive applause at the end of the performance, as it is quite secondary. Domingo himself chose Machaizde to sing Thaïs for reasons which became clear from the very first bar she sang. With her powerful, sometimes dark voice, Machaidze created a magical Thaïs, evolving from seduction to religious devotion. The rest of the cast were good enough, but were not so well integrated into the dramatic ensemble. 

Kai Gleusteen, the Liceu’s concertmaster, deserves mention. His musicality, his taste, his sound and his virtuosity were always a present for the listeners. The notorious Méditation was one of the most applauded moments of the evening. The orchestra, under the baton of Patrick Fournillier (in his debut at Liceu) demonstrated its excellence once again.