The First Placido Domingo International Voice Competition
Of all the discs involving Domingo I've reviewed this month, this is the most enjoyable. It comprises the prize-giving gala concert given last November in Paris in which the great tenor acts as a kind of a father-figure to the four winners of the first competition held in his name, inviting them to sing alone and in duet with him while he throws in a couple of solos. In the presence of the young he himself is, Faust-like, rejuvenated, singing with an amazing freedom in a kind of conspectus of his own repertory, opening the night with a wonderfully open-throated reading of ''O paradis'' and later giving an ebullient, golden account of Leandro's Romance from La Tabernera del puerto, the first of four encores that he graciously announces in charmingly fractured French.
All the singers are worthy winners. The three sopranos are, in differing ways, highly promising. The Swedish Nina Stemme, who ought to have won the last Cardiff Singer of the World contest, is the most affecting among them with a warm, appealing voice of sensuous overtones, ideal for La Wally's eloquent solo to which she brings appropriate vibrancy. Then she proves a thoroughly worthy Desdemona, phrasing with Verdian breadth, for Domingo's sovereign Otello, here caught on even more heroic form than on his complete sets in a reading finely conducted by Kohn. Stemme's subtlety and individuality of phrasing is at once evident in her first, expressive solo. She is hardly less successful in the final trio from Forza, where Domingo is again superb as an anguished Alvaro. A little more flesh on the tone and Stemme will be in the front rank.
The Albanian soprano Inva Mula-Tchako sounds like the young Freni, floating line and tone tenderly in ''Qui la voce'', then joining Domingo in an engaging, astutely characterized account of the duet from Elisir, the tenor once more enlivened by one more new partner in song. Here is another talent that will go far. Ainhoa Arteta is a more French-like soprano, with a lighter, shallower tone, a slightly acid Manon, more at home in the duets from El gato montes and Boheme with Domingo, where her Spanish temperament is very much to the fore. She is also a nice foil to Stemme's Countess in the Letter duet from Figaro.
The Korean Kwanghchul Youn, rather an anonymous Mephisto and Padre Guardiano, comes into his own as a suave Giovanni to Mula-Tchako's Zerlina: he sounds to me more of a baritone than a bass. The well-filled disc is faithfully recorded: once again in a live performance a natural rather than a manufactured acoustic is caught with the Bastille orchestra present but not too prominent. Highly recommended.'