Plácido Domingo

Italia, ti amo

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It's understandable that Plácido Domingo has waited until the end of his career to release an album of Neapolitan songs; he required, the liner notes say, "intensive language coaching" to master the Neapolitan dialect in which most of these songs were written. All the better, then, that he hasn't tried to deliver a volume of Naples' greatest hits but has taken more specific aim: he is interested, he says, in the "incredibly touching sense of melancholy" that can be heard in Neapolitan songs, and in (now quoting liner note writer Jörg Königsdorf), "the concentrated emotional intensity that makes up this music's lifeblood, as much as in a Verdi aria." Thus Domingo selects pieces that lie on the tragic side and have a bit of operatic sweep, singing them new orchestral arrangements (done by various arrangers). He avoids the common romantic numbers of the Neapolitan song repertory; the only real chestnut here is Core 'ngrato, at the end. Instead he selects meatier pieces from various eras of Neapolitan song; some of the songs are quite recent, and one, Quarant' anni, was composed by one Plácido Domingo Jr.

These decisions make sense. Domingo's voice still has plenty of expression in its top ranges, but to ask it to do hot-blooded romance in these songs would not show it at its best. The rather soft melancholy of many of these songs fits the current color of the singer's voice. And it's nice to hear the music in orchestral arrangements; as the notes point out, the interaction between opera and popular song in Italy is longstanding, and dressing up songs like these from time to time is an essential part of the process. If Domingo does not have quite the kick that Mario Lanza (whose example he cites, perhaps surprisingly) had in this repertory, and even if he risks disappointing both those who want the sentimental bonbons and operatic purists, he has nevertheless delivered an unusual disc that anyone who likes Neapolitan songs should hear.

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