- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2009

It has been an unexpectedly turbulent year for the Washington National Opera.

Battered like all arts groups by the ailing economy, the company was forced to indefinitely postpone its much-ballyhooed complete Ring Cycle, and it is difficult to rejuggle the upcoming season to accommodate the change in scheduling. Changing schedules is not easy to do in a world where the best performers often must be booked years in advance.

In this context, WNO’s gala concert, “From My Latin Soul,” starring the company’s general director, Placido Domingo, was a welcome break in the operatic gloom, a reaffirmation, in effect, that Mr. Domingo still loves his Washington fans and that opera in the nation’s capital will go on.

Big picture aside, the evening was lots of fun for the near-sellout crowd that greeted Mr. Domingo and friends at DAR Constitution Hall. As far as his legion of local fans is concerned, Mr. Domingo can, indeed, retain his position of general director for life.

With a significant assist from the evening’s co-star, the beautiful and brilliant Argentine soprano Virginia Tola, along with passionate Spanish dancer Nuria Pomares, sexy tango dance team of Valeria Solomonoff and Orlando Farias, the WNO Orchestra, and others, Mr. Domingo’s program blended Hispanic-flavored opera arias, zarzuela showpieces, and Hispanic folk and pop tunes into a world-music celebration of his own Spanish heritage.

Also scheduled to appear was Mexican TV star Lucero. However, she suddenly canceled, apparently due to last-minute travel complications involving the outbreak of swine flu.

Mr. Domingo gave the audience a great deal of what they came to hear — his own still-phenomenal voice. After the orchestra opened the evening with a rousing selection of tunes from Bizet’s “Carmen,” Mr. Domingo sang the passionate prayer “O Souverain” from Massenet’s “Le Cid,” an opera he brought to the Kennedy Center several seasons back.

Alternating solos with Virginia Tola, and occasionally engaging duets such as “Suzel, buon di” from Mascagni’s “L’Amico Fritz” with her, Mr. Domingo proved once again that, even in his 60s, his legendary voice is still in fine form.

However, it was delightful to see his work in the evening’s finale with the two young Mexican tenors in his Domingo-Cafritz program, Jose Ortega and Jesus Daniel Hernandez. Both already possess powerful voices, great diction and an exciting stage presence. When they sang with the Mr. Domingo it seemed, if only for a moment, that the Three Tenors were in a process of rebirth.

Highlights? Mr. Domingo and Miss Tola, of course. Also, the marvelous dancing of Miss Pomares, Miss Solomonoff, and Mr. Farias. Also, the rousing appearance of the terrific mariachi band, El Mariachi Real de Mexico, particularly when they joined Mr. Ortega and Mr. Hernandez in “Cucurrucucu Paloma” and “Serenata Tapatia.” And finally, the audience-favorite encores, concluding with Mr. Domingo’s rendition of the ever-popular “Granada.”

★★★

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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