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Semi-Historical Drama: Handel's 'Tamerlano'

For more than four decades, tenor Placido Domingo has been one of the world's most acclaimed, and most active opera singers. Never content with the status quo, he has lived up to one of his favorite sayings: "If I rest, I rust."

The uniquely heroic quality of Domingo's voice was always superbly suited to the most popular operatic repertory, and he built a legendary career starring in the great operas of Giuseppe Verdi, including Aida, Otello and Il trovatore, along with the verismo potboilers of Giacomo Puccini, such as Tosca and Madame Butterfly.

Yet Domingo has gone far beyond the familiar dramas of opera's "standard rep." He has explored his Spanish heritage by entering the musical world of zarzuela, and he has starred in operettas, including Lehar's The Merry Widow. Domingo has also tackled brand new roles in brand new operas, such as The First Emperor by Tan Dun.

Astoundingly, Domingo has added new roles to his personal repertory in nearly every year since 1959, when he appeared in Verdi's Rigoletto in Mexico City. In 2008, audiences at the Washington National Opera heard Domingo in the 126th role of his career, when he sang the part of Bajazet in George Frideric Handel's vivid tragedy, Tamerlano.

For Domingo, Handel's opera was yet another departure from the tried and true; Baroque opera had never been a Domingo specialty. Yet he describes the role of Bajazet as "ideal for my voice." Bajazet was one of the first great tenor roles ever composed, and Domingo says it has a key element in common with one of his own, signature roles, the title role in Verdi's Otello: a great death scene. "In real life, I like to enjoy," Domingo says. "But on stage ... I am a masochist! The more I suffer, the better I can deliver on my music, and feelings."

On World of Opera, the Washington production of Tamerlano is presented by host Lisa Simeone, from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The stars also include another of today's great voices, countertenor David Daniels, in title role, along with the brilliant young soprano Sarah Coburn as Asteria.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

Copyright 2010 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.