There is an Italian saying that translates to something like 'If only the young man had the knowledge and the old man had the power.' This splendid sequel to EMI's 'Wagner Love Duets' certainly proves this saying false. Antonio Pappano, only 42, is a mere child by conductor standards, certainly for one as accomplished and experienced as he is. In fact, when he takes over the musical directorship of Covent Garden in August, he will be the youngest person ever to hold the position. Placido Domingo, officially 61 (and rumor has it actually 66 or 67!) is at the age when many tenors are, or SHOULD be, retired, yet he puts to shame here many tenors 20 years younger than he is. Because Siegfried is such a strenuous role, Domingo has never sung it onstage and probably never will. This is a pity, as the only other possible contender, Ben Heppner, has said that while the 'Gotterdamerung' Siegfried is a possibility for him, the 'Siegfried' Siegfried is not. This is also some of the best singing Domingo has ever done, and that is saying a great deal.
The Forging Scene here is extraordinary. Unlike in the 'Siegfried' selections in 'Wagner Love Duets', Domingo is almost able to suggest that Siegfried is a teenager. If he falls slightly short in that regard, it is Wagner's doing, not his - the music is simply too dark and the vocal line too baritonal in places. It is rare to have such a beautiful voice in this repertory, or such lyricism and legato in music that is often barked. His high As ring out with boundless, and yes, youthful energy. Considering that Pappano takes the music relatively slowly, one must also admire Domingo's stamina in sustaining the pace. His nobility and clarity of utterance here and throughout the disc is a joy. Yes, German is hardly Domingo's best language - in addition to other linguistic lapses throughout the disc, he pronounces the all-important 'Neidliches' three different ways in as many verses. Of course, what is more important is that he understands the meaning of the words he sings. The marvelous young character tenor David Cangelosi is a superb Mime, as one would expect from his nasty, vicious Spoletta on Pappano's 'Tosca'. Meanwhile, the conductor conjures the raw, primal power of creation, and whips the orchestra into a near frenzy as Siegfried smashes the anvil.
In the Forest Murmurs scene and in the scene under the lime tree, Domingo convincingly conveys Siegfried's innocence, vulnerability and loneliness. Pappano mirrors this beautifully in the orchestra, and conveys the loveliness and wonder of Siegfried's natural surroundings. The bright and merry Natalie Dessay continues the trend of luxurious casting of the Woodbird.
We then move to 'Gotterdamerung', where Domingo's Siegfried, now truly an adult, says farewell to his beloved. Violeta Urmana, the Brangane on 'Wagner Love Duets', is here 'promoted' to Brunnhilde, deservedly getting much more of a showcase than the 3-odd minutes she had originally. Urmana, nominally a mezzo, has a big, warm, passionate voice, and her dark timbre makes her a more mature Brunnhilde than the youthful-sounding Deborah Voight. While she has no problems with Brunnhilde's highest notes, which include a high C, I really think the role requires more brightness and steel. Hers is a magnificent voice, but I'm not entirely sure it's the right one. Still, she and Domingo match each other for ardor, and of course Pappano is with them all the way. Finally, Domingo and his accompaniment are ideally regal and tragic at Siegfried's Death.
Although Pappano has proved in the recording studio and in the theater to be a master of just about every 19th and 20th century operatic style, and his repertory on the concert platform is even wider, only now that he is recording Wagner is he being taken seriously as a great conductor. Pappano himself is amused at this - I'm annoyed. Here we finally get to hear him conduct extensive orchestral excerpts on record. We are fortunate that this conductor understands that even without voices, opera is theatre. His readings of the 'Gotterdamerung' Prologue and Sunrise, Rhine Journey, and Funeral March are full of not only understanding of the dramatic situations, but also orchestral clarity and detail. He is superb in slowly building tension to explosive climaxes, and equally adept at bringing out the music's radiance and gentleness when necessary. This all bodes extraordinarily well for the Ring Cycle Pappano will be conducting at Covent Garden in 2005 (with no less than Bryn Terfel as Wotan!). I do not know what if any Wagner he will be conducting there prior to this (not Lohengrin in 2002-2003, as I reported in my review of the first disc), but those who have tickets will be privileged indeed.
Kudos not only to the Covent Garden orchestra as a whole but also to its three superb soloists - percussionist Nigel Bates, English hornist Alan Garner and French hornist Simon Rayner, as Siegfried's anvil, reed pipe and hunting horn, respectively.
The documentation consists of laudatory biographical paragraphs on Domingo and Pappano, summaries of not only the action of the scenes played here but also the scenes surrounding them, and full texts and translations . There is also a striking black and white portrait of Domingo on the front cover and photos of all the other artists on the back.
Like the Domingo and Pappano's first Wagner collaboration, this is a superb introduction to the composer, perhaps even better here due to the inclusion of the orchestral pieces. Whether you are a Wagner neophyte or fanatic, you will still be astonished at how good Domingo sounds for somebody 'past his prime'. And to think what Pappano will sound like in HIS prime, when he's 60 or 70!