Plácido Domingo has been singing so stunningly well for so long -- beyond the average tenor’s sell-by date -- that many fans no doubt take him and his improbably hearty vocal cords for granted by now.
If any further evidence were needed that, for Domingo, age 72 is the new 40, there was Los Angeles Opera’s “An Evening of Zarzuela and Latin American Music” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday, which showcased the tenor (who is also the company’s general director) alongside an ensemble of emerging young singers.
Throughout the program, Domingo was in prime, latter-day form, his tone expansive and burnished in “Amor, vida de mi vida,” from Moreno Torroba’s “Maravilla”; his phrasing nimble (with a touchingly youthful eagerness) in the rakish “Junto al puente de la pena,” from Jose Serrano’s “La Cancion del Olvido”; his emotional coloring of the text tellingly conveyed in an ardent duet from Torroba’s “Luisa Fernanda” (sung with Maria Antunez, whose aristocratic bearing and darkly tinged soprano paid dividends all evening).
Granted, Domingo’s performance was helped by the material. Zarzuela -- Spain’s answer to French opera-comique, Viennese operetta and English light-opera -- makes less daunting vocal demands than much of this singer’s operatic repertoire. Add to that the opportunity for Domingo to cherry-pick zarzuela excerpts that hew closer in range to the baritone repertoire he’s been exploring of late, and the result was a singer-friendly program of music that skirted the kind of stratospherically high writing his voice was better suited to in his youth.
But the music’s accessibility doesn’t minimize Domingo’s achievement. And, when microphones were introduced for an encore sequence of popular Latin standards, he was the only singer on the Chandler stage who understood how to pull his voice back to an easy pop croon (for a seductive rendition of “Besame mucho”), while his colleagues simply pumped their accustomed operatic sound into the mics.
Elsewhere on the program, though, those singers made a strong impression.
Along with the previously mentioned Antunez, Auxiliadora Toledano proved a bright coloratura soprano, and tenor Antonio Vazquez (whose day job happens to be the presidency of Iberia Airlines) sang with elegant finish.
Most striking of all were tenor Joshua Guerrero, with a voice marrying sweetly lyrical timbre, impressive heft and ringing high notes, and Janai Brugger, whose supple and luminous soprano delivered one gloriously floated high note after another.
A brief guest set by Latin music superstar Pepe Aguilar brought down the house, thanks to Aguilar’s suave vocals and some terrific work by his band, Mariachi el Zacatecano.
For the remainder of the evening Jordi Bernacer conducted the L.A. Opera Orchestra in spirited, well-turned readings of music that could not have been very familiar to the musicians. They did their boss, Señor Domingo, proud.