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Domingo, Plácido: 1941

Plácido Domingo: 1941: Opera singer, conductor, administrator


The Spanish-Mexican tenor Plácido Domingo is among the greatest all-around musicians of the last quarter of the twentieth century. With a voice matched only by a very few of his contemporaries, he has sung every major role in the classical operatic repertoire and quite a few more unusual roles. With fellow tenors José Carerras and Luciano Pavarotti he formed the Three Tenors, am ensemble that brought opera to pop fans and attracted the largest audience ever to hear a concert of classical music. Domingo, almost alone among opera singers, has also branched out into conducting and arts administration.

Domingo was born in the Spanish capital of Madrid on January 21, 1941. His parents were both performers in the Spanish musical theater genre called zarzuela, roughly comparable to operetta in the English-speaking world. The family toured Latin America with great success during Domingo's childhood; his mother Pepita became known as the Queen of Zarzuela, and by 1950 the family had settled in Mexico City and taken steps toward forming a zarzuela troupe there. Plácido took piano lessons, dreamed of a conducting career in high school, and performed in his parents' zarzuela productions; in the midst of a chorus that had a brief solo passage, his fellow choristers, having realized the power of his voice, shoved him forward to sing the solo.


Talented Soccer Goalie

As a young man Domingo also excelled as a soccer goalie, but he elected to embark on a musical career and enrolled at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. He studied both voice (as a baritone at first) and conducting. His musical theater experience led to his first professional roles, one in the Mexican production of the U.S. musical My Fair Lady and the other in a 1957 zarzuela production. Domingo's operatic debut came in 1960 with the Mexican National Opera, in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto. He served his apprenticeship in the opera world with a two-and-a-half year stint in Israel in the early 1960s, singing in 280 performances (most of them in Hebrew) with that country's national opera company.

By the late 1960s, Domingo was ready to conquer the stages of the world's major opera houses. He joined the New York City Opera in 1965 and quickly impressed critics with his acting skillssometimes a weak point among conservatory-trained and technique-focused singers, but second nature to the raised-in-the-theatre Domingo. Throughout his career he would be praised for the depth of his dramatic interpretations, and of all the roles he has performed he is perhaps most identified with Verdi's Otello, based on the Shakespeare play Othello and making similarly difficult interpretive demands on its star.

At a Glance . . .

Born January 21, 1941, in Madrid, Spain; parents were zarzuela (light opera) performers; married Marta Ornelas (a lyric soprano); children: Jose, Plácido, Jr., Alvaro Maurizio. Education: Attended National Conservatory of Music, Mexico City, Mexico; studied voice and conducting.

Career: Made debut as baritone in a zarzuela (Gigantes y cabezudos ), 1957; switched to tenor; joined Mexican National Opera, 1959; made operatic debut, in Rigoletto, 1960; performed in first major role, as Alfredo in La Traviata, Monterrey, Mexico, 1961; sang with Israel National Opera Company, 1962-65; joined New York City Opera, 1965; performed with Hamburg State Opera, 1967; made debut at Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY, 1968; debuted at La Scala, Milan, Italy, 1969; performed at Covent Garden, London, U.K., 1971; conducted an opera performance for first time (La Traviata ) with New York City Opera, New York, NY, 1973; recorded duet with John Denver ("Perhaps Love"), 1981; recorded duet with Jennifer Rush ("Till I Loved You"), 1989; helped found Los Angeles Music Center Opera; first performed with Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras as The Three Tenors, 1990; starred in film versions of Carmen, Otello, and La Traviata; founded vocal competition for young singers, 1993; became artistic director of the Washington Opera, Washington, D.C., 1996.

Awards: Grammy Award, Best Latin Pop Performance, 1984; Legion of Honor, France.

Addresses: Record company Columbia/Sony Records: 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.

Domingo made his most important debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1968, in the opera Adriana Lecouvreur. Pavarotti made his own debut there during the same season, which is remembered as "an important one in Met history," according to Opera News writer Walter Price. Price pointed to the "burnished, dark color" of Domingo's voice. Through the 1990s Domingo appeared at the Met at least once each season, and his debut there was followed by appearances at the major European opera houses. By the mid-1970s, Domingo was considered one of the top tenors in the world.

Has Memorized Over 30 Roles

Keeping up what seemed to many a grueling schedule of appearances, Domingo displayed an enthusiasm that rarely flagged; he attributed his endurance to the examples of his parents, who had sometimes given two or three performances in a single day. Part of what endeared Domingo to operatic producers was his tremendous knowledge of the operatic repertory. He knows over 30 roles by heart and is familiar with many more, and in one case studied a role on the plane as an emergency substitute at the San Francisco Opera, changing into his costume in a limousine on the way to the opera house.

A new chapter in Domingo's career began in 1972, when he served as orchestra conductor on an album by fellow opera star Sherrill Milnes. Domingo followed that up with a conducting appearance at the New York City Opera (in Verdi's La Traviata ) during the 1973-1974 season, and since then has been active as a conductor in most of the major opera houses in the United States and Europe. Some observers believed that Domingo was trying to build a place for himself in the world of opera after his singing days ended, an understandable goal in view of the long career fade-out suffered by some operatic vocalists. In Domingo's case, however, conducting came naturally, for he had occasionally conducted performances for his parents' zarzuela company as a young man and had studied conducting in Mexico.

Domingo also branched out in another way in the late 1970s and 1980s: he made forays into popular music, recording duets with pop stars John Denver and Jennifer Rush. Though there was a long history of such efforts by opera stars, these brought the singer some criticism from purists. Another semi-popular project of Domingo's middle age was an effort to promote a rediscovery of the zarzuela music with which he had grown up. Domingo was becoming more and more of a public figure, a status that intensified after his energetic efforts to help victims of Mexico City's disastrous 1985 earthquake. But few could have predicted the success of the move that in the 1990s would make Domingo an instantly recognizable figure in the pop world to a degree that few other classical performers have ever accomplished.


The Three Tenors

United by their common love of soccer, Domingo, Pavarotti, and Spanish tenor José Carreras joined forces for a "Three Tenors" performance at the 1990 World Cup soccer championship in Rome, Italy. The Three Tenors were a blockbuster success, with CD and video releases of the World Cup concerts topping sales charts worldwide. The 1994 concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (Three Tenors concerts were held every four years in conjunction with the World Cup) was viewed on television by an estimated 1.3 billion people, the all-time largest audience for classical music and one of the most successful televised events of any kind.

Domingo slowed down only slightly in the late 1990s and the first years of the 21st century. He added yet another facet to his all-around participation in musical events when he was named artistic director of the Washington (D.C.) Opera in 1996, and he worked to cultivate the careers of his own successors when he established a competition for young singers in 1992. In the year 2000 he received a Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, D.C. Opera publications around the turn of the century recognized that it would be very difficult to find a successor for this vocally towering, dramatically gifted, and physically compelling singer. Many consider him to have reached the pinnacle of operatic artistry in the late twentieth century.


Selected discography

Romantic Arias, RCA, 1969.

Domingo Conducts Milnes! Milnes Conducts Domingo!, RCA, 1972.

Carmen, London, 1975.

Carmen (soundtrack), RCA, 1984.

Otello, RCA, 1978.

Perhaps Love, CBS, 1981.

Tangos, Pansera/DG, 1981.

Requiem (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Angel, 1985.

Nights at the Opera, CBS, 1986.

Be My Love An Album of Love, Angel, 1991.

The Broadway I Love, Atlantic, 1991.

(With Paloma San Basilio) Por Fin Juntos, Capitol/EMI Latin, 1991.

Canta Para Todos, Capitol/EMI Latin, 1991; reis-sued, Polygram Latino, 1993.

(With Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras) Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras in Concert With Mehta, Mobile Fidelity, 1993.

De Mi Alma Latina, Angel, 1994.

Granada: The Greatest Hits of Placido Domingo, Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.

(With Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras) The Three Tenors: Paris 1994, Atlantic, 1994.

(With Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras) The Three Tenors: Live 1998, Atlantic, 1998.

(With Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras) Romantic Tenors, Atlantic, 2002.


Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 20, Gale, 1997.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.

International Dictionary of Opera, St. James, 1993.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, et al., eds., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Schirmer, 2000.


Periodicals

Billboard, November 10, 2001, p. 22.

Opera News, September 13, 1993, p. 8; March 16, 1996, p. 8; July 1997, p. 12; November 1997, p. 71; September 1998, p. 24.

Time, December 28, 1998, p. 180.


On-line

All Classical Guide, http://www.allclassical.com


James M. Manheim

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