The Royal Opera House declared it a "celebration" to mark 40 years since Placido Domingo first sang here.
To the audience who crowded in, paying up to £200 a ticket for an event sold out within hours, this was an act of devotion for a singer whom many regard as the greatest opera performer, and certainly its greatest actor, since the war.
Covent Garden has become more used to jeans and trainers than evening dresses and jewels. So spying a young man in an ermine-trimmed evening jacket, one knew this was an "occasion".
So it proved. Domingo may have lost the full throat of youth. He has made a virtue out of necessity as his voice has deepened in age, turning to baritone roles after a lifetime as one of opera's greatest tenors. "So the singing isn't perfect," he said when taking his first baritone role, "but opera is drama."
It started, as it was originally intended to finish, in the role for which Domingo is most famous: Otello. An arguably downbeat start, redeemed by Domingo's ability to switch from the vengeful to the confused and finally to a broken spirit as he reached his last aria in this final act. With Act III of Rigoletto we were in the full blast of Verdi at his richest. Domingo in the main role wasn't able to develop the depths of character and emotion he might have shown in the earlier scenes with his daughter and in his discovery of her at the court. But Domingo played it darkly and the supporting cast, particularly Francesco Meli, did him proud.
So finally into the last act of Simon Boccanegro, Verdi's darkest and, for some (including myself), finest work. Long on the lower register, it shows up some of Domingo's weaknesses in the baritone role, but not his dramatic sense. No one dies like Placido Domingo and, in this case, he actually swallow-dives to his demise in his daughter's arms.
They don't make them like that any more. And more's the pity. Domingo belongs to Grand Opera in a way that few male singers do today. He's also a real trouper. He doesn't do tantrums and last minute illnesses. What he does do is totally committed performance. Last night he did it again. An evening as much of Verdi's music as the singing, driven by Antonio Pappano's tremendous feel for drama in music as conductor. But, in the end, the occasion was an act of homage to a man who, even at 70, still gives us his all.
A version of this review appeared in some editions of Friday's paperReuse content