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DOMINGO NOT QUITE UP TO OPERATIC CHALLENGE.

Byline: David Mermelstein Correspondent

Those seeking proof that there's a new sheriff running the Los Angeles Opera need look no further than the concert Placido Domingo put on Sunday night. In a program to be repeated this evening and Friday, the opera's new artistic director sang the tenor roles in two extended excerpts from Wagner: the first act of ``Die Walkure'' and the second of ``Parsifal.'' (Both acts were staged without benefit of sets or costumes.)

The big news, however, wasn't Domingo's tackling of Heldentenor fare, nor his gathering of some fine fellow singers, but rather his securing the participation of St. Petersburg's Kirov Orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev, its music director. For those unfamiliar with Gergiev, he may well be the only superstar musician alive to rival Domingo for sheer peripatetic energy.

And so expectations were high. Maybe too high. Gergiev and his orchestra have traveled much in the past several years, enriching audiences with their distinctive Russian sound. Perhaps they've overextended themselves. Not that they didn't sound good; they did. But they didn't make the sort of searing musical impression that they have on previous visits - or did the previous night at an orchestral concert in Irvine. Gergiev conducted with fervor, and the Kirov musicians certainly responded in kind, especially the cellos, which emitted a sumptuous burnished sound. But those little accents, those interpretive insights one hopes for when listening to these players, never materialized on Sunday night.

Yet the fault may not lie so much with the stars as with the singers, one in particular. Although he may fancy himself one, Domingo is not really a Heldentenor, a male singer who combines volume with tonal brilliance and never breaks a sweat. True, Domingo has both recorded Wagnerian roles and performed some on major stages. But these parts challenge him. And on Sunday, he was clearly not up to their hefty demands.

In the ``Walkure'' act, in which a drenched Siegmund (Domingo) enters the less-than-happy home of Sieglinde and Hunding, the tenor never savored Wagner's arching lines. Instead, he opted for a swift pace that left him less exposed to the role's perils. There was, to be sure, tonal beauty on occasion, especially in the ``Wintersturme'' section, though Domingo's rather poor German blunted the libretto's impact.

The Sieglinde, Danish soprano Eva Johansson, blended power with clarity in a strong characterization. And the Hunding, one of Wagner's least savory creations, came in the form of Russian bass Fyodor Kuznetsov, a tall, gaunt, funereal-looking fellow whose sonorous voice, superb diction and all-around sense of menace steered attention clear away from Domingo.

The ``Parsifal'' excerpt proved even less suited to Domingo's talents. Matters began well enough with bass-baritone Alan Held's Klingsor and soprano Linda Watson's Kundry, both seeming well-versed and comfortable in their roles. Held's rapid vibrato and focused sound made his Klingsor a figure of genuine menace, and Watson's secure, darkish tone, though lacking beauty at times, offered welcome heft. Alas, Domingo is no ``innocent fool made wise through pity,'' and as Parsifal, his usually robust vocalism failed him, a bleat occasionally marring his expression.

Domingo should be applauded for using his considerable influence to bring artists like Gergiev and the Kirov to Los Angeles, but he needs to be aware of his limitations, too.

PLACIDO DOMINGO WITH ST. PETERSBURG'S KIROV ORCHESTRA

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. When: Tonight and Friday. Tickets: $28 to $148. Call (213) 365-3500. Our rating: Two and one half stars
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 13, 2000
Words:582
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