Fans of Placido Domingo have had the chance, in the past few years, to see him in almost every operatic role imaginable for a tenor: the hapless hero of "I Pagliacci," Don Jose in "Carmen," even Florestan in Beethoven's "Fidelio" -- not to mention the role of conductor at such places as Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera.
Next fall, Washington Opera patrons will hear him in the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's new opera, "Goya." And before he retires, he has said, he hopes to fulfil a lifelong ambition by singing the (baritone!) title role of "Don Giovanni."
All this is impressive, but tonight on PBS (at 8 on Channels 26 and 32 and Maryland Public TV; simulcast on WBJC, 91.5 FM), Domingo can be seen and heard singing the music he was born to sing.
That music is zarzuela, the special Spanish form of opera whose vigorous rhythms, bright orchestral colors, vivid percussion and special melodic qualities (often tinged with unlike any other operatic music in the world.
Zarzuela "is the music I heard in my crib," Domingo has said. "My mother sang it to me the night I was born." He is the son of two zarzuela singers who moved from Spain to Mexico City, where they set up their own company. He made his own singing debut (as a baritone) in zarzuela, with his parents' company. And although his career has taken him far from his Spanish music origins, zarzuela remains his first love. That is made abundantly clear in tonight's telecast, which was taped last August in Madison Square Garden.
Domingo does not perform alone; with him are the 120 musicians and dancers of the Antologia de la Zarzuela, whose spectacular performances have become familiar in Washington during their visits in the past few years.
The Antologia's dancers are as spectacular in their own way as Domingo is vocally. On the company's earlier visits to Washington, without Domingo, the most striking single item each year was probably the dancers' performance of the jota from "La Boda de Luis Alonso." It is included in the televised performance, and it is still impressive, though the small screen can't do full justice to the spectacle of those vigorous bodies hurtling back and forth across a large stage. Also worth noting among the evening's colorful dances is the bullfight number from "El Gato Montes."
But Domingo is clearly the star of this show, performing in most of the 10 numbers. He is at his best, perhaps, and quintessentially Spanish, in "Adios Granada" from "Los Emigrantes," but in all his numbers -- covering a musical spectrum that ranges from almost pure folk style to almost mainstream opera -- he is clearly attuned to the special requirements of the music.
For those who have a taste for zarzuela, or in general for music slightly outside the standard operatic repertoire, the only complaint is likely to be that the show has been edited down to an hour.