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MEXICO EARTHQUAKE BENEFIT : DOMINGO & FRIENDS IN CONCERT : Frank Sinatra Could Have Taught the Operatic Stranger in This Pop Paradise a Few Things About the Art of the Microphone

August 14, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music Critic

The gargantuan Universal Amphitheatre was packed Tuesday night. The top ticket cost $100 without champagne buffet, $250 with.

The attraction was a concert that could give eclecticism a bad name. It offered a lot of well-mannered popera, a little high-class opera, a smattering of schlock, no roll.

Blaring microphones distorted the music and assaulted the 12,500 assembled ears. No one seemed to mind. Standing ovations were plentiful.

The cyclorama behind the orchestra on the stage glowed and gleamed like a berserk jukebox. Between the superstar turns, the narrative banter scaled unparalleled hyperbolic heights.

At least the Event (capital E) benefited a good cause: relief for the homeless earthquake victims in Mexico.

This was The Placido Domingo Show. The celebrated tenor, who had suffered personal losses in the Mexican disaster, billed the gala as "Domingo and Friends."

The friends included the attentive Jack Elliott and the versatile New American Orchestra; Kirk Douglas, who volunteered some charming words of introduction; a sweet trio of close-harmonizing Latino teenie-boppers called Pandora (or, if one believes Domingo, The Pandoras); Dr. Armand Hammer, who received another humanitarian award for his collection and announced a donation of $100,000 for Mexican hospital reconstruction, and three additional singers.

The additional singers? A dusky baritone named Frank Sinatra. A folksy tenor named John Denver. A pristine soprano named Julie Andrews.

With an assembly like that, it had to be an exciting program, right? Wrong.

It turned out to be a program that ambled, scrambled and rambled--politely but without much direction, focus or climax. Vaudeville lives.

The dashing Domingo's solos included "Granada," of course, plus a zarzuela ditty plus--surprise!--"Quando le sere al placido " from Verdi's "Luisa Miller." Although the Universal Amphitheatre is no larger than some of the operatic locales in which he has sung, he insisted on using the overamplification system here. In so doing, he short-circuited critical evaluation.

Suffice it to note that the delivery sounded urgent, the timbre sounded edgy, the range sounded healthy and the phony decibels sounded deafening.

When it came to duetting, Domingo drowned out Denver in the crossover hit "Perhaps Love"; drowned out the Pandoras in "Besame mucho"; and drowned out Andrews in a medley from "West Side Story."

Domingo didn't sing with the enduring and endearing Frank Sinatra. Too bad.

The erstwhile bobby-soxer idol could have taught the operatic stranger in this pop paradise a few things about the art of the microphone.

Sinatra quipped that after hearing one tone from Domingo, he wanted to head for the bar. It would have been an unnecessary and ignoble retreat.

At the respectable age of 71, Sinatra may not command all the vocal substance of yore. But he still commands the style.

He knows how to make the words count, how to give a line rhythmic punch, how to create mood and sustain tension. He may have cracked and lost sync with the orchestra in "My Heart Stood Still," but he made the most of the contrasting geographical sentiment in "L.A. Is My Lady" and "New York, New York."

Denver and his cohorts also used the mike to advantage in the corn-pone slickness of "Country Roads" and a hard-driven Stephen Foster arrangement, "Hard Times."

Andrews, the presumed piece de resistance , looked cool, elegant and statuesque in a voluminous silvery skirt that reflected the jukebox glow. She sang "West Side Story" excerpts with a pale and pretty sopranino than thinned out at the top.

Her prim Anglo-Saxon interpretation of the Puerto Rican Maria, incidentally, found a somewhat jolting complement in Domingo's heroic, distinctly Hispanic interpretation of the white slum kid Tony. (Jose Carreras did it a little better.)

A spokesman for Operation California, the sponsoring organization, reports that the concert grossed more than $400,000.

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