Domingo Sings Live From Streets Of Italy, On PBS

American television audiences will see something unique this week – filmed live in the streets and palaces of an Italian city: Verdi’s “Rigoletto” with Placido Domingo, singing right where the story is set.

When the plot says “midnight” – he’s there exactly at midnight, singing from the city of Mantua for TV.

When the story is set outdoors – he’s sweating in the 90-degree heat. Still singing.

And if a production light went out – “too bad.” He kept singing.

Photo: AP Photo
Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year event, Las Vegas, Nev.

On Friday, PBS’s “Great Performances” series will broadcast this Italian television production of Verdi’s masterpiece that first aired last September in Europe.

“This was one of the toughest things I have ever done,” Domingo told The Associated Press by telephone from Valencia, Spain, where he was conducting at the new Santiago Calatrava-designed arts complex.

In “Rigoletto,” the star tenor sings the leading baritone role – that of a 16th-century court jester whose daughter is all he has left in life. She’s spirited away by a lascivious duke, leaving her father a broken man.

At 70, Domingo is no longer comfortable with the highest tenor pitches. Some critics have said he has no business singing roles for which he lacks the rich vocal weight of a baritone. Domingo shrugs off the contrarians.

“I don’t pretend to be a baritone,” he says. “But I’m coloring my voice into a darker and darker sound.”

Not everything can be perfect in a live performance, he acknowledges. “You say, ‘Oh my God, I wish I did that, or this, differently.’“

Still, his is an electrifying performance as only a spontaneous, you-have-one-shot-at-it can be.

His acting is devastatingly dramatic, portraying a desperate, aging court jester who drops his funny mask to reveal “a hunchback filled with vengeance, and sadness.

“He destroys himself; if he were a little nicer, it would go better,” notes Domingo. “The vedetta is on him.”

He’s part of a cast that includes tenor Vittorio Grigolo and soprano Yuliya Novikova, with Italy’s RAI public television orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Having just completed 15 years as general director of the Washington Opera – “a wonderful experience that brought the company to an international level” – he says “it’s time for it to go a new, fresh way.”

And it’s time for Domingo to do more work in Europe, he says: “I have been neglecting Europe, and I’m now going to spend more time in my own country.”