On paper, Plcido Domingo's decision to drop in on Richard Jones' production of Die Walkure to make his Wagner debut and mark his Covent Garden jubilee looked worrying. In the event, Edward Seckerson found plenty to savour
In the circumstances, the opera might have been retitled Siegmund or even Die Walsung. The occasion - Plcido Domingo's Silver Jubilee at Covent Garden - rather shifted the focus of the evening. It's one thing using such an occasion to air your first Wagner in the capital, but when the opera in question is Die Walkure and the production - visually, stylistically - is so much a part of the larger picture (ie Richard Jones's complete and much maligned Ring) that it makes little sense to be seen in isolation, then the choice is questionable, to say the least. Not that Richard Jones will have been any closer to this one-off revival than most of its well- heeled punters will have been to his Ring. They will have heard about it, of course, and thus felt free to snicker on cue at the human tree, at Fricka's battered Cortina, at the Valkyries' flying soup-trolley (see how much sense it makes out of context). Would there be vacant seats for Act 3 following our hero's demise in Act 2? A cynical view, perhaps, but not that cynical given the nature of comments overheard before and after the all-important first act.

So how would Domingo deal with the production? To what extent would he "do" the production (as in "go through the motions", which is all that could be expected of him in the circumstances)? With the indisposition of Anne Evans, his Sieglinde (Karen Huffstodt) was similarly disadvantaged. During the Act 1 prelude she is discovered, head bowed, tresses flowing, over an open fire. Her body gyrations suggest a trance-like state, possession, sexual awakening, the proximity of her lost brother in love. At least, that's the subtext. But when you've just flown in from heaven knows where and all you have is a resident director to "fill you in", then you might just as well be drying your hair. Actually, Karen Huffstodt is a feisty performer with a dark, vibrant if slightly wild, "pushed" voice, who fair flung herself into the evening (almost toppling the human tree at one point). But commitment counts for very little dramatically if you haven't been party to the evolution of a production such as this, if you don't somehow belong to it.

Which brings us to the whole raison d'etre for the evening. And before you ask (those of you who have seen the Jones Ring), yes, Domingo did duly rise through the flames of Sieglinde's fire (the cynical money said he wouldn't), briefly to be one body with her before collapsing exhausted to the floor. Domingo is a natural stage animal: his imposing presence is always something to behold. He didn't look out of place in Jones's staging, but in a sense he was. I was reminded of that old Kurt Weill song, "I'm a stranger here myself". A tall, dark stranger. In short, this was Domingo doing what Domingo does (and very well) in Nigel Lowery's faux-naif designs. It was almost as if he had outgrown them.

He sang splendidly. An heroic voice of this stature, eminence and experience is something of a luxury in the role of Siegmund. Heldentenors of like calibre would generally be singing Siegfried by now. But then Domingo is not, strictly-speaking, a heldentenor. Indeed he's almost a Wagner singer by default, being one of very few Latin stars to have successfully embraced both the Italian and German repertoires. But let's be grateful for this late - and yes, great - Siegmund. The role sits perfectly for him, being mostly plumb in the middle of the voice. The darker portents of his Act 1 narration bring the darker hues into play. It's rare to hear a tenor who can fill a word like Tod with such resonance so low in the vocal compass. But throughout that compass it's the fullness, the well- marinated quality of the timbre that is such a joy. That and the generosity of his musicality. I've heard him welcome the fragrant spring of love (a somewhat sour lime green in this production) more sweetly, I've heard him yield more to the enticements of Wagner's most lyrical entreaties. But in Act 2, his final moments with Sieglinde were quite extraordinarily beautiful. And no, you can't put a price on singing like that. The punters got their big notes, too. The great cries of "Walse! Walse!" in Act 1 thrillingly invoked the fiery sword motif and later, in response to the pay-off of a well-placed and mightily sustained top A, it seemed only fitting that the human tree should fall to its knees.

So Domingo popped into the Jones Ring on his way somewhere else. And - all things considered - we're glad he did. Others, though, have been there all along, and you had only to witness the scenes between Wotan and Fricka (an indomitable Jane Henschel - though the bottom of the voice is turning into something of a separate event these days) and Wotan and Brunnhilde to see what a difference that makes. In the final scene of Act 3, John Tomlinson and Deborah Polaski may have been utterly spent vocally (both are recklessly unstinting in their pursuit of that extra distance), but they touched us in ways that brought home the human depths of Jones's work. It's weird, it was like the show could go back to being painfully, grubbily honest after the visiting star had gone. Plcido Domingo conducts `Tosca', tonight only, ROH, London, WC2 (0171- 304 4000)

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