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Placido Domingo

  • Conductor
  • Tenor


Placido Domingo press reviews

45 Roles, 628 Performances. Why Stop?

New York Times


Plácido Domingo cannot see himself retiring the way many opera stars do: by announcing a farewell tour and going from company to company, accepting tributes. “Rather,” he said, reflecting on his astonishingly long career during an interview in the tiny press office at the Metropolitan Opera, “I think it will be one evening, after a performance, to say, ?That’s it.’ ”

Mr. Domingo, 68, came close to doing that in January 2007 at the Met, at the end of the premiere run of Tan Dun’s opera “The First Emperor,” commissioned by the Met expressly for him.

He was feeling well vocally, he said. But rehearsing and performing a demanding lead role in an unconventional new opera had taken enormous effort. “I was very tempted,” he said, “at the end of the last performance to walk on stage and say, ?Ladies and gentlemen, that’s it for opera.’ But then I said to myself: ?Why? If you are in good shape, and you are box office, and you sell out the house, you should continue.’ ”

Continue he does. He just sang two performances of the daunting title role in Wagner’s “Parsifal” — a role he had put to rest, or so he thought — at the Berlin State Opera. He could not resist entreaties by the conductor Daniel Barenboim to perform the opera together a couple of more times. This spring he will sing one of his signature roles, Siegmund in Wagner’s “Walküre,” in two of the three complete “Ring” cycles at the Met, under James Levine, whom he called his most valued Met colleague.

And on Sunday evening the Met presents a gala program to celebrate two milestones: the company’s 125th anniversary and the 40th anniversary of Mr. Domingo’s Met debut on Sept. 28, 1968, when, on short notice, he substituted for an indisposed Franco Corelli in the role of Maurizio in Cilea’s verismo melodrama “Adriana Lecouvreur.” The critic Donal Henahan described Mr. Domingo in The New York Times as the Met’s “hottest young artist” in the tenor category, “a strapping fellow with a plangent and sizable voice as well as considerable stage magnetism.”

The way Mr. Domingo came to sing this role again in the Met’s recent revival of “Adriana Lecouvreur” shows how his career has taken turns even he never anticipated. Marcelo Álvarez had been scheduled to sing Maurizio. But when the tenor Salvatore Licitra withdrew from the Met’s new production of Verdi’s “Trovatore,” which opened last month, Mr. Álvarez was reassigned to the Verdi role.

So what to do about Maurizio? As it happened, a major tenor was available for the very days of the six-performance run of “Adriana”: Plácido Domingo, who was scheduled to conduct. So he agreed to reprise a role he had not sung since 1983.

Understandably he looked a little mature to be portraying the hotheaded young Maurizio. But he still had his old charisma and sounded remarkably good.

Since his 1968 debut at the Met Mr. Domingo has sung 45 roles, along with concerts and galas, for a total of 628 performances, and conducted 127 times, including 9 complete operas. No singer of his significance in opera history has worked so hard to maintain a secondary career on the podium.

Juggling joint performing careers would be demanding enough. But Mr. Domingo has also been running two opera companies, the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. He has brought attention to both institutions, enticing colleagues to work with him, charming patrons and developing worthwhile artistic projects. But his fellow administrators at those companies will tell you that a lot of work has to be crammed into days when the boss is in town, before he jets off to his next singing gig.

When Mr. Domingo took on Washington in 1996 and Los Angeles in 2000, he assumed his singing career was coming to an end. His contracts with both houses run through 2011. Might he consider giving up at least one to make life easier?

“To be honest, I have thought of returning both,” he said, meaning he may not extend either contract. “When you have been doing wonderful things in the theater, and you see the economy as it is now, you don’t want to go down in quality.” With both companies facing financial challenges, it could be time to step aside. He spoke of running an international festival as perhaps a better fit for him at this stage. But he said he had made no decisions.

These are the first hints Mr. Domingo has given that he might finally be slowing down. The motto on his Web site reads, “If I rest, I rust.” He has always been a compulsive worker, precocious in every facet of his life.

Born in Madrid, he moved with his parents to Mexico when he was 8. In his adopted country his family ran a zarzuela (Spanish operetta) troupe. If you start with his professional debut in Mexico at 16, singing as a baritone in zarzuela, Mr. Domingo has been before the public for 52 years.

Also at 16, while studying at a conservatory in Mexico City, he ran off and impulsively married a fellow music student two years his senior. Soon his first son, José, was born. His parents, as he said in a 1998 interview with The Times, “were furious, but, even more sad.” The marriage soon ended, and in 1962 he married his present wife, Marta, a singer who abandoned her career to support his and raise their sons, Plácido Jr. and Alvaro.

Mr. Domingo has long had a pop-culture presence from his lucrative years with the Three Tenors and his continuing ventures into crossover. His stardom may lend a boost to his popularity in opera. But it is Domingo the dedicated artist who is being invited to sing Parsifal in Berlin with the cerebral and serious Mr. Barenboim.

Serious opera buffs today cannot expect to hear the Domingo of the glory decades, when, as Verdi’s Don Carlos, he sang with such burnished sound and arching lyricism and, as Verdi’s Otello, he was a force of nature, creating a volatile and vocally thrilling portrayal of this touchstone role. Other listeners will have their own favorite memories.

Not many opera singers have kept working into their late 60s. In recent years Mr. Domingo’s voice has sometimes sounded a little leathery, his legato can be patchy, and he has increasingly relied on transpositions to bring certain high passages down into his vocal comfort zone. Still, there is not a trace of the wobble that afflicts older singers in his voice. His sound is robust, earthy and still powerful. He sings with a savvy blend of nobility and know-how.

His longevity is all the more remarkable when you consider the breadth of his repertory, a staggering 130 roles so far. Vocal purists might argue that by endowment Mr. Domingo was an ideal Verdi and Puccini tenor. His Wagner singing was a triumph of vocal accommodation. But he brought such musicianship, commitment and vocal charisma to bear that he swept audiences away with his portrayals. And even now there are not many competitors as Parsifal.

Mr. Domingo attributes his longevity to his slow start. As a young man he thought he was a baritone. But teachers soon convinced him that he was a tenor. In those early days he worked tirelessly to build his upper range, he said, “fighting for every semitone.”

“Some tenors are born with this tessitura,” he added, “and have all the high notes from the day they open their mouths.” (Luciano Pavarotti for one, Mr. Domingo’s great colleague and lifelong rival.) “But I had to work so hard.”

That early technical work served him well over the years. Young singers looking for a role model of healthy technique could do no better than to observe Mr. Domingo.

His singing has also been enhanced by his comprehensive musicianship, which dates from those first years working in the family zarzuela troupe, conducting the instrumental ensemble and preparing arrangements. As a conductor in the opera house he has always had strong critics, though he knows the scores he conducts thoroughly and in recent years his technique has notably improved. He has surely used his stardom to secure conducting assignments from companies that must have Domingo the tenor on their rosters.

Yet while acknowledging his limitations as a conductor, he is convinced, he once said, that had he put all his energy and focus into conducting from the start and not become a singer, he could have developed into a major conductor. This seemed not an idle boast but a solid musician’s clearheaded analysis of his capacity.

Meanwhile Mr. Domingo has accepted singing dates through the 2011-12 season. Should he suddenly decide to stop singing, he said, so be it. “Nobody is indispensable,” he added. Tell that to the houses that have planned productions around him.

Most houses are willing to take that chance for now. Still, no one should be surprised if after some performance Mr. Domingo takes the stage during curtain calls to make an announcement.

Next season at the Met Mr. Domingo is to fulfill a longtime dream, singing the title role of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra,” a formidable baritone role, which suits his voice well, he said. So vocally things may come full circle.

“Maybe this ?Simon Boccanegra’ I really will make the last thing,” he said. But who knows? “I will never sing one more day than I should, but I should not sing one day less than I can.”