- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

''The Three Tenors World Tour 2000" concert Sunday night at the MCI Center may not have been worth the money, despite the gloriousness of voices and orchestra. At least two dozen large clumps of empty seats throughout the arena suggested that ticket prices from $53 to $603 were a tad much for Washingtonians.
Too bad, really. For beyond the music, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras offered subtle and not-so-subtle differences in personality that made them rope for this town. They were like presidential contenders for the Republican, Democratic and Reform parties only with charisma.
Mr. Pavarotti was the biggest celebrity, of course, with that distinct tinny voice which gorgeously explodes when called upon. The bearded Bluto look-alike grinned merrily and opened wide his arms all evening, though he always seemed ready to leave the stage. (I love the way he walks offstage: He bows his head, staring at the floor, yet still waving to the audience.) Easily, his "Nessun Dorma," with its spine-tingling crescendo at the very end, was an audience favorite, earning the only standing ovation for a solo.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pavarotti's "Recondita Armonia" from "Tosca" severely lacked any depth, as if he was going through the motions. Giacomo Puccini's luscious aria proclaiming an artist's love for a subject has been sung with much more passion by Mr. Pavarotti, who seemed distracted, his arms stiffly at his side.
Meanwhile, Mr. Domingo, artistic director of the Washington Opera, strolled onstage like the pope of Washington, arms raised in benediction, taking in his local adoring audience.
Godiva Chocolate Co. could not create a voice with such lusciousness of tone as Mr. Domingo's. His arms even seemed to cradle the notes, and oftentimes his head and body shook with dramatic voice. His re-creation of Enzo's last night on Earth in the opera "Tosca," with the aria "E Lucevan le Stelle," encompassed passionate fury.
Few singers caress the microphone like Mr. Domingo. One could not help but be reminded that this is what Mario Lanza would have sounded like had he further delved into classical opera. In fact, the Sunday night performance paid a subtle tribute to Lanza with an arresting version of "Because" and then "Be My Love" during the encore.
Mr. Carreras is simply the good guy of the three, the bridge between two larger egos, and he quietly played the role Sunday night. He seemed to bend into the microphone, right foot forward, and his voice reflected more earnestness and passion.
Yet, at times, Mr. Carreras' personality came alive, as he would adjust his cuffs and apply a winning wink and smile to the audience. He unleashed a torrent of emotion with Gastaldon's "Musica Proibita," one of the evening's strongest numbers. This meant, of course, that he was more than simply "the other guy," as an episode of "Seinfeld" once declared him when alluding to the Three Tenors.
High camp took over in full force during the "American Medley" at the close of the performance. The three did their standard "West Side Story" tribute (always a rather shaky selection) but were surprisingly more effective with "Because," "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Moon River." Mr. Domingo even turned "Moon River" on its head with the line, "Three Tenors/off to see the world" and the results were hilarious.
Unintentionally hilarious, however, was their version of Frank Sinatra's anthem, "My Way." An annoyingly bombastic song anyway, this one doesn't belong in the Three Tenors' repertoire. It reminded me of the time I heard Harry Connick Jr. sing "Ave Maria."
Yet, the evening was a strangely subdued, perhaps because of ticket sales. MCI went all out: The stage was lamely decorated with ferns and palms (one supposes they bring out the flowers for the full houses) and a wide red carpet available at any rug outlet.
Roly-poly maestro James Levine proved to be a delightful bonus, however, as orchestra conductor. His curly salt-and-pepper hair and glasses, his facial expressions and mouthed cries of "beautiful" to the tenors were a refreshing addition to the somewhat staid, tuxedoed singers. (The three were physically aligned with the conductor, instead of in front of him, which gave Mr. Levine a justified equanimity with the singers.)
Mr. Levine's warm-up orchestration of Berlioz's "Roman Carnival Overture" magnificently put the audience in a breezy, springtime mood. The orchestra's rendition of "Bachanale" from Camille Saint-Saens' "Samson and Dalila" in the middle of the second act was equally crackling. The fact that few audience members left during that orchestral piece testifies to the good graces of both the musicians and the sophisticated listeners.

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