Saturday 16 December 2017

Domingo is the Real deal . . . if only Madrid had matched him

The great football stadia of the world are often referred to as cathedrals. It's entirely appropriate that music should be part of their lifeblood.

I can remember the community singing, as it was called, in the build-up to big games like the FA Cup final. Now, it's about the two teams warming up on the pitch.

Then, it was a gentleman in a white suit who climbed a rostrum and conducted the crowd as they sang the lyrics printed in the programme as a brass band played.

From there we've moved to football chants, some more sophisticated than others. A number from Carousel, a 1945 Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, made the transition to the terraces. At Liverpool, they sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

Italian crowds, more partisan than patriotic, still manage to belt out some Verdi. In Milan, at La Scala, 'Gloria all' Egitto' is a triumphant highlight of Aïda.

Real Madrid, soccer's original aristocrats, have taken this further, with a specially commissioned aria they used to mark their centenary.

Last week, when Bayern Munich came to contest the semi-final of the Champions League (which they won), kick-off was preceded by the soaring voice of Plácido Domingo belting out 'Hala Madrid'.

With most of the 80,000 there for the football joining in, it really does tingle the nerves, a great song that would fit in perfectly should anyone ever decide to turn the soap opera that is soccer into something appropriate for the musical stage.

Real Madrid had a theme song for 50-odd years, a rather perfunctory march that probably suited the era. But when their centenary rolled around in 2002, they wanted something with a bit more class.

The artist who provided it was José Cano, a Madrid native, with a background in popular music, who'd tried his hand at opera without great success. His principal collaborator in that venture had been Plácido Domingo, another Madrid man, and also a Real Madrid fan.

Cano came up with a song, which Domingo would sing.

The soaring melody delivers an operatic feel, there's also the impact of the occasion, for this is the overture to a theatrical event, a football match to be played out in front of a huge gallery.

Domingo's powerful voice, along with the full orchestra he got together for the recording, booms out through the speakers, filling the stadium, and the fans respond. The effect is stunning in its unexpectedness.

If the football team had been half as good as the music that introduced it, they wouldn't have lost to Bayern Munich, they'd be in the final of the Champions League.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sundays at 3pm.

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