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Opera's spirit haunts Roman theater.

Summary: There are certain types of music, and particular musical venues, capable of relieving daily stress and seducing you to give yourself up your emotions.

ZOUK MIKAIL: There are certain types of music, and particular musical venues, capable of relieving daily stress and seducing you to give yourself up your emotions.

Such was the case at the Zouk Mikael International Festival, which opened with a hypnotizing and time-suspending duo performance featuring Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Argentinean soprano Virginia Tola.

Domingo and Tola have worked together a lot over the years, and recently held audiences spellbound in Shanghai, Washington D.C. and Barcelona, to name just a few locations. They brought their varied vocal gifts to Zouk Sunday evening, to the general delight of those assembled.

Accompanied by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Eugene Kohn, Domingo and Tola made the stage their own. Set in the town's magnificent Roman amphitheater, the dynamic duo delivered a stunning show filled with emotion.

Although their program was long and fully packed, Tola's and Domingo's voices emitted a cooling breeze that considerably lightened the humid and stuffy air of Zouk Mikail.

They performed solos and duets from the classical repertoire of such composers as Austria's Franz Von Suppe and Franz Lehar, Italy's Rossini and Verdi and Spain's Granados and Barbieri.

For more than three hours, the spectators witnessed a one-of-a-kind event where the orchestra, the conductor and vocalists came together in a great symbiosis of performance. It was as though the audience were witnessing a scene from a historic movie in which a queen and king (Tola and Domingo) were guided and protected by their knights (the LPO and Kohn.)

The lyrics of Tola and Domingo's performance were sung in Italian, German and Spanish.

During their duet on Franz Lehar's "Lippen Schweigen" ("Silent Lips"), Tola's superb soprano voice and Domingo's tenor (which in recent years has explored the lower registers as he's begun experimenting with baritone roles) animated a scene upon the subject of love, or more likely lost love.

The best opera doesn't simply put vocalists in costume and have them sing a program of songs on stage. Though its acting conventions are a trifle rarified by contemporary standards, opera still requires the performers to inhabit their roles -- being opera, that often requires more emotion than intellect. It's a genre that demands the audience feel the soloists' pain and joy in the gut.

It was obvious from Tola and Domingo's performance that they threw a great deal of energy into their parts -- as much as they would were they performing the roles in their entirety and not simply a song or two from each opera.

Consequently -- notwithstanding the fact that they were singing in German, Italian or other languages not common in Zouk Mikail -- Tola and Domingo's performances allowed their audience to feel the same emotions as themselves, just by watching them.

For those transported by Tola and Domingo's voices, the show proved that old adage that music is a universal language. Between these two outstanding vocalists and their audience, there was no linguistic barrier whatsoever.

At one point, maestro Kohn and the LPO dedicated the "Intermedio," from Spanish composer Gimenez's "Las Bodas de Luis Alonso," to the recently departed Walid Gholmieh, president of the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music, for his "involvement in music and," as Kohn said "for bringing the LPO to such a high level."

By the end of the performance, the audience wanted more. They acclaimed Domingo and Tola with such fervor that the duo felt compelled to deliver an encore performance that lasted a minimum of 30 minutes.

The minute Domingo started singing "Besame Mucho" and "Granada," the spectators applauded him with the passion of groupies reaching for the members of their favorite rock band.

The Zouk Mikael International Festival continues with American blues icons "Roomful of Blues" on July 20. For more information please call 03-150-751 or 01-999-666 for ticketing.

Copyright 2011, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jul 19, 2011
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