Without Pavarotti and Carreras, Placido Domingo Sings On

Placido Domingo's eyes filled with water and his voice choked with emotion. He was singing ahead of the World Cup soccer final, and his frequent partner was ailing.

After performing with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras as The Three Tenors before four World Cup finals over 16 years, Domingo was joined by tenor Rolando Villazon and soprano Anna Netrebko for Friday night's concert at Berlin's Waldbuehne, just down the street from Olympiastadion.

It was exactly 16 years to the night that The Three Tenors performed for the first time at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. Earlier Friday, Pavarotti's manager announced the 70-year tenor had undergone surgery in New York for pancreatic cancer.

Domingo learned of the operation on Thursday night, and he kept thinking of his friend during the opening vocal number, Cilea's "Lamento di Federico." During Domingo's final solo encore, Sorozabal's "No puede ser," his eyebrows pinched down as his eyes again got watery.

"When I was singing the last aria, I couldn't help being quite sad, thinking that Luciano is in this moment suffering," Domingo said. "It was very, very emotional."

The Three Tenors popularized classical music with concerts that purists looked down on as trashy. They sang 34 of the shows from 1990 through 2003, but with Pavarotti and Carreras singing only limited dates these days, they weren't scheduled to appear together at this World Cup. Pavarotti's manager, Terri Robson, said he turned down the chance to sing with Netrebko at the World Cup because he already was committed to a performance in Britain.

Their 1990 concert came about after Carreras recovered from leukemia.

"There has been some talking by Jose if we can get together again," Domingo said. "The most important thing is to get dates together. If that happens, it will be to my joy. Once we did it when Jose was feeling bad. It would be very nice to be able to do it for Luciano."

This year's concert was in a 20,000-seat amphitheater, with the Murellen Mountain behind the stage. Netrebko and Villazon, opera's hottest young duo, injected some pizzaz into the format of arias, duets and Broadway show tunes.

A downpour soaked the area about two hours before the show, but the weather held up -- with thunder sounding, intermission was shortened to just a few minutes.

Domingo and Netrebko joined for the vocal highlight, a moving "Gia nella notte densa" from Verdi's "Otello." He has been singing the role for more than three decades, and she isn't sure whether she'll take on a complete Desdemona. The generational gap was stunning as the 65-year-old Domingo, with a closely cropped white beard, caressed the shoulders of the 34-year-old Netrebko, who wore a strapless purple gown.

Another sign of generational change was in "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's "Les Pecheurs de perles." Rather than sing the tenor part of Nadir, Domingo took the baritone role of Zurga for the duet, joined by Villazon.

Netrebko, who began her night with "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," changed into a shimmering red gown at intermission and combined with Villazon for a tender "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's "La Boheme." The pair are scheduled together for a single performance of "Boheme" at New York's Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 5.

There also was the usual shlock. The three combined for a trio rendition of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Lehar's "Das Land des Laechelns," with Lisa between two Prince Sou-Chongs competing for her affections. There also were heavily accented versions of "Tonight" from "West Side Story" and "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha," and a joint encore of the "Brindisi" from Verdi's "La Traviata," with the singers raising champagne glasses for toasts.