Perhaps to establish their bona fides, critics reviewing Plácido Domingo in the title role of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” tend to point out that Domingo is not a baritone, as the role calls for. While it’s true that Domingo first positioned himself as a baritone, that was a long time ago, and he very quickly moved up to tenor roles, in which he established a stellar reputation.
In recent years, however, the 71-year-old, who is also general director of Los Angeles Opera, has transposed some tenor roles downward, and Boccanegra seems to sit reasonably comfortably in his range.
None of these issues mattered much Saturday to an enthusiastic audience when Domingo starred in Verdi’s opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Baritone, schmaritone: Domingo was a commanding vocal and dramatic presence, and especially touching in his death scene.
To be sure, his voice has contracted in dimension and has acquired some sandpaper, but there was still plenty of power and expression when needed. One could argue that Domingo’s dramatic capabilities have actually grown. In addition to his death scene, one thinks of Boccanegra’s meditations on power, his deep-felt efforts to heal the city's and country’s social and political divisions, and especially his restraint in the touching scene in which he discovers his long-lost daughter, Amelia.
“Simon Boccanegra” is a strange child in the Verdi canon. It flopped when it premiered in 1857, but it took on new life when the composer revised it in 1881, with the essential input of Arrigo Boito, who created the amazing Council Scene in Act 1. Even so, it hasn’t exactly become an audience favorite, perhaps because of the low, dark vocal coloring — there is only one female principal role — and the gloom and improbability of the plot. It usually takes someone with the stature of Domingo to bring it to the stage.