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SF Opera hosts Plácido Domingo in enchanting lovefest

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From left, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Ana María Martínez, Plácido Domingo and Jordi Bernàcer appeared in a sold-out concert at the War Memorial Opera House. (Courtesy Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

San Francisco’s long love affair with opera superstar Plácido Domingo, which began in 1969 with his debut here as Rodolfo in “La Boheme,” continued Sunday afternoon when San Francisco Opera presented the seemingly ageless legendary performer in a highly satisfying and passion-filled program of works by Verdi and Spanish composers.

The concert opened with Spanish conductor Jordi Bernàcer guiding the orchestra through the Prelude to Verdi’s “La Traviata” with tenderness and sensible pacing, delivered (along with verve when needed) throughout the performance, which proceeded into Act 2, Scene 1 of the same opera.

Domingo, 77, long one of opera’s most renowned tenors, took an improbable turn into the baritone repertoire in 2009, and in Sunday’s excerpt, he reprised the role of Alfredo Germont’s father Giorgio Germont. Domingo’s paternal concern came across with an extra measure of empathy for Alfredo, the attractively florid and ardent-voiced tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, who has sung the part in Rome, Moscow and Washington, D.C.

Domingo’s voice, as hale and big as ever, has colorings and weight of a tenor. Witnessing his exchange with Violetta Valéry (smooth-voiced soprano Ana María Martínez), concert-goers could be forgiven if they saw and heard in Domingo some of Alfredo’s ardor dressed in his father’s clothes.

Scenes from Act 2 of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” followed. Domingo again assumed the title baritone role, displaying the necessary fatherly chops but with a tenor-like quality as the Doge of Genoa, whose daughter Amelia Grimaldi is love with his enemy Gabriele Adorno (a role Domingo also knows well). Martínez as Amelia and Chacón-Cruz as Adorno were appealingly effective; their trio with Domingo at the end was resplendent.

The singers’ ornate accounts of arias from the Spanish light-operetta genre, zarzuela, made up the concert’s second half. Domingo, born in Spain; Martinez, from Puerto Rico, and Mexican-born Chacón-Cruz showed the requisite lyricism and zeal for these works.

With the exception of a lovely orchestral rendition of de Falla’s well-known “Farruca” from “El Sombrero de Tres Picos” tucked in between, the lovely arias by Giménez, Soutullo, Vert, Luna, Serrano, Sorozábal and Moreno Torroba — rarely performed in this country — got a great audience reception. It’s conceivable that zarzuelas could have a stateside following, particular here in the Bay Area, home to many Spanish speakers.

Domingo, Chacón-Cruz and Martínez encored with stirring arias by Serrano, Torroba and Lecuona. In the last work, Velasquez’s romantic “Besame mucho,” the trio shared the love with the audience, and Domingo beckoned the smitten, obliging crowd to join in.

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