Opera singer, conductor
“Singers who become successful conductors must be as rare as conductors who become successful singers. The two callings, while presupposing certain similarities in temperament, require such different levels of musical training that the appearence of a tenor in the pit conducting the New York City Opera’s La Traviata on Sunday afternoon raised eyebrows to the scalp level.” Donal Henahan opened his New York Times review of Placido Domingo’s 1973 American conducting debut with these words. Henahan concluded that “he came through with considerable success.” For Domingo, in the prime years of his career as a tenor, conducting was merely a new facet in his lifelong career of musicality.
Placido Domingo was born in Madrid on January 21, 1941, the son of Don Placido Domingo and Pepita Embil, internationally famous singers in the popular field of zarzuela. This comic opera genre was as popular in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America as it was in Madrid, and in the early 1950s, the Domingo-Embil troupe relocated in Mexico City. Young Domingo studied piano and voice at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, where Carlo Morelli coached him upwards from the baritone to tenor range. He made his profesional debut as a tenor as “Alfredo,” the hero of La Traviata, in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1961. Soon, he was appearing in Texas, where he had the opportunity to perform with two of the great divas of the opera world. In 1961, he sang “Arturo” with Joan Sutherland in Lucia di Lammermoor for the Dallas Civic Opera, and in 1962, he sang the larger role of “Edgardo” in Lucia for the farewell performance of Lily Pons in Fort Worth.
Domingo and his wife, soprano Marta Ornelas, joined the Israel National Opera where he learned to enlarge and project his voice by re-learning to breathe. In a process that he described to the New York Times Magazine in 1972 as “being reborn,” he developed the muscular control necessary to thrust the diaphragm down and abdomen out to provide a pressurized column of air for the vocal chords.
He began a long association with the New York City Opera in 1965 and became prominent during the company’s debut season at Lincoln Center in 1966. Among his most succesful roles with that company were as the hero of Don Roderigo, a 12-tone work by contemporary Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and as the Earl of Essex in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, featuring Beverly Sills. William Bender described their performances as “a true meeting of romantic equals” and praised her “unsurpassed coloratura” and his “tender gestures that can thrill girls on both sides of the footlights” in Time in 1970. As “Alfredo,” Domingo’s stage presence and ability to add depth to his characterizations
Born January 21, 1941, in Madrid, Spain; son of Placido and Pepita Embil Domingo (both zarzuela singers); married briefly as a young man; married Marta Ornelas (an opera singer), c. 1962; children: (first marriage) one son; (second marriage) two sons. Education: Studied piano and voice at National Conservatory of Music, Mexico City.
Made professional debut as a tenor in La Traviata in Monterrey, Mexico, 1961 ; has appeared in numerous operas throughout the world, including Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata, Les Comtes d’Hoffmann, Carmen, Otello, Rigoletto, La Boheme, Don Carlo, II Trovatore, Lohengrin, and I Pagliacci; former member of Israel National Opera Company and New York City Opera. Has toured and recorded extensively, singing popular songs, operettas, and zarzuela music, as well as opera; has made many appearances on television programs, including “The Muppet Show,” in addition to his own specials; has also appeared in a number of filmed operas; conductor.
was especially noted in the latter role in a performance in which, as Gerald Walker wrote in the New York Times Magazine, in 1972, “[opera director Frank] Corsaro had instructed Domingo to carry the dying ‘Violetta’ to the couch, where they were to begin singing. At one point, Domingo was late in picking up [Patricia] Brooks and starting for the couch, so he began singing while holding her in his arms. Most singers shrink from singing while lifting a weight or bending because it interferes with their breath control. Domingo finished the duet and said, ‘It would be a wonderful idea to hold her during the performance and make it move like a lullaby.’ They kept it in.”
He performed extensively in Europe receiving praise for his “Rich vocal endowment” in Verona and his “effortless elan” in Hamburg. On October 2, 1968, he was scheduled to appear for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in Adriana Lecouvreur, but he made his actual debut in that opera four days earlier, replacing an ailing Franco Corelli. Both performance received high praise.
“God must have been in excellent spirits the day He created Placido,” legendry soprano Birgit Nilsson was quoted as saying in a New York Times Magazine article in 1972. “He has everything needed for one of the greatest careers ever seen; an incredibly beautiful voice, great intelligence, an unbelievable musicality and acting ability, wonderful looks, a great heart, and he’s a dear, dear colleague. He is almost the perfect linguist—but, alas, he has not yet learned how to say no in any language.” Domingo sings more operas than most tenors—over 80 roles in all genres. For much of his career, critics have written advisory articles warning him that the number of performances, variety of roles, and intensity of travel required for a twentieth century opera star could damage his voice. Domingo has stated, and has proven through the longetivity of his career, that he could protect his voice despite the strain of singing. He has passed many of the milestones of the repertory encompassing roles that, because of their range, intensity, or length, are considered threats to a continued career. His first “Otello,” in the Verdi opera, was a triumph at the Hamburg State Opera in 1978 and was followed by appearances in that role around the world and on film. He told Peter G. Davis in New York in 1982 that singing “Otello” had actually improved his overall vocal quality: “The secret is to keep a smooth texture and retain flexibility while you develop the power. My voice has grown warmer since singing ‘Otello,’ but not darker, I feel that the role has helped solidify my sound—it has given me a foundation on which I can build and manipulate the tone more freely.”
As early as 1979, when he opened the Metropolitan Opera with Otello, some critics began to list his awesome statistics. Hubert Saal, in Newsweek, estimated that he had sung 80 operas, had recorded 50, and had totaled up 1400 performances. But Saal praised that performance, which was telecast nationwide on PBS’s “Live from the Met” as being “as electric as a third rail, a figure of quivering nerve ends, of emotions running into each other. He not only has the Devil on his back in ‘lago,’ but has devils running amok within him. If anything distinguishes him onstage, it’s his ferocious concentration and the intensity of a runaway train.” Only once did Domingo himself have publicly stated doubts about accepting a role. He questioned his decision to accept the role of “Aeneas” in Berlioz’s Les Troyens for the Metopolitan Opera in 1983 but did, in fact, do the performances.
Non-operatic music appeals to Domingo who has made recordings of Requiems by Verdi and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the latter a world-wide top seller. He has followed the tradition of tenors in the era of recorded sound begun by Enrico Caruso of recording traditional, folk, and popular songs. His album with John Denver, Perhaps Love (1981), sold millions of copies and introduced him to new listeners unfamiliar with opera. A 1983 New York Times Magazine article quoted a spokesman for CBS Masterworks, which released the album, as targeting “mainly people over 25 and mainly women…. Domingo is eating into this audience from his end of the spectrum just as Willie Nelson is from the other.” Domingo defended his pop recordings to New York in 1982 as a trade-off for recording obscure works, such as Weber’s Oberon and claimed that singing popular English language ballads helped him “to become even more conscious of words in an opera, to project character and verbal nuances more meaningfully.” Among his many other pop recordings are collections of tangos, of songs from Viennese operettas, Dein ist Mein Ganzes Herz and Vienna, City of My Dreams, and of his family’s native zarauela, Zarzuela Arias and Zarzuela Arias and Duets.
Non-operatic music has also been the focus of Domingo’s television and live performances. He co-starred with Carol Burnett in a highly acclaimed variety special (CBS, January 27, 1984) on which he sang “Be a Clown” and “Vesti la giubba” (from/Pagliacci) and partnered Burnett in Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” His own special, “Steppin’ Out with the Ladies” (NBC, May 14, 1985), featured Domingo singing pop standards and duets from Broadway musicals with Maureen McGovern, Marilyn McCoo, Leslie Uggams, and Patti LaBelle, as well as “Tevye’s” monologue, “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” He sang with Miss Piggy on “The Muppet Show” and revived their partnership at Radio City Music Hall in a benefit for the Actors’ Fund of America in 1982. Domingo is also the focus of a European television special that has been aired on PBS and cable systems, “Placido: A Year in the Life of Placido Domingo.”
Domingo has also starred in zarzuela performances all over the Spanish speaking world. He appeared in the newly composed//Poeta by Federico Moreno Torroba in Madrid in 1980 and has sung recitals and concerts from the repertory, most notably on the successful tour “Antologla de la Zarzuela” in 1985. Robert C. Marsh, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, described it as a triumph for Domingo: “He seemed to be having the greatest satisfaction singing this music, which, needless to say, he sings with complete authority and artistry, since it is more than a symbolic return to his musical roots…. The opera of Spain is zarzuela and seeing him and hearing him in this music reveals to us basic truths about him as a man and an artist that we are richerfor knowing.” Domingo had discussed the importance of presenting zaruela as early as 1981, when he told Dial of his preliminary plans to present the Spanish-language operas in American cities, because “these communities are too much deprived of their own cultural forms.”
As televised and filmed opera became more popular in the 1980s, Domingo’s dignified presence and intense acting made him a natural star. His appearances in fully staged operas and recitals on the Public Broadcasting Service’s “Live from Lincoln Center” and “Live from the Met” received high praise. In the PBS program guide, Dial, he talked to John Kobler about his television preparation. He reads avidly the source material for each opera, since most nineteenth century operas were based on popular novels or historical plays. He also studies the political and cultural climate surrounding the opera’s creation and the events that the libretto portrays. Finally, he adapts his acting style to the camera, as in the party scene of the first act of La Traviata: “Normally, Alfredo would raise his glass high, but if he does this on television, the glass will go right off the screen. He must keep it at the level of the chest. Again, many singers close their eyes when they are singing an aria. On television, this looks foolish. You should keep them open.” Domingo’s opera films have also been tremendously popular in theaters and now on video. His intensely romantic La Traviata, directed by Franco Zefferelli with Theresa Stratas as “Violetta,” and Zefferelli’s Otello, Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci were lush and theatrical. The controversial Carmen, with Julia Migines-Johnson in the title role, was praised for its sensual realism.
Domingo’s career continued at its rapid pace until September 1985 when Mexico City was devastated by earthquakes. He lost several members of his family and took time out from opera performances to sing benefits for the city. He lives in Spain but also maintains homes in Mexico City and the New York metropolitan area.
Conducting has become a major focus of Domingo’s career, although he expects to sing until the mid-1990s. His ability to make that eyebrow-raising switch from singer to conductor is based, many colleagues believe, on his inate musicianship. Zubin Mehta told Newsweek in 1982 that “the signals that come out of a conductor are understood by all musicians but not always by all singers. Placido understands them.”Time then quoted Domingo himself saying that “I have a tremendous advantage being a real musician because I never have to think about the music. It flows.” It seems likely that Domingo will be providing music—as a singer and conductor—in live performances, television, and film for decades to come.
Carmen, London, 1975.
Carmen (soundtrack), RCA, 1984.
Otello, RCA, 1978.
Perhaps Love, CBS, 1981.
Tangos, Pansera/DG, 1981.
Andrew Lloyd Weber, Requiem, Angel, 1985.
Domingo, Placido, My First Forty Years, Knopf, 1983.
Snowman, Daniel, The World of Placido Domingo, McGraw, 1985.
Chicago Sun-Times, August 19, 1985.
Dial, September, 1981.
New York, March 1, 1982.
New York Times, October 9, 1973; March 13, 1977; September 26, 1983.
New York Times Magazine, February 27, 1972; January 30, 1983.
Newsweek, October 8, 1979.
Opera News, January 19, 1963; April 16, 1966; September 20, 1969.
Time, October 26, 1970.
Few opera singers have made such an impact on their musical genre as Spanish-born Placido Domingo, a critically acclaimed tenor who has treated audiences to his mellifluous voice in the greatest opera houses of the world. “Domingo is widely regarded as the supreme lyrical dramatic tenor of the late 20th century,” claimed the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, which added that he is “an actor of exceptional passion and commitment as well as a singer of warmth, intelligence and fine taste.” Edward Greenfield echoed these opinions in High Fidelity in 1970 when Domingo was still in his twenties, writing “Domingo is almost too good to be true, the possessor not only of a superlative voice, but of a kindly, modest temperament that stands correction without fuss.” Domingo has also received kudos for his conducting of operas, a sideline he began in the early 1970s.
Having sung in nearly 400 performances of 38 different roles, Domingo has also contributed his voice to well over 100 recordings of operatic works. While he is perhaps best known for mastery of the title role in Verdi’s Otello, almost all of the major roles in both the Italian and French repertories have been sung by the artist. He has also explored the great roles in German opera such as Wagner’s Parsifal and Lohengrin, and the role of Sieg-mund in Die Walküre. In recent years Domingo has brought the joys of opera to general listeners as well, as part of the famed “Three Tenors” that include Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras.
Domingo developed an early love of music while growing up in Madrid, largely because his parents, Placido and Pepita Domingo, were professional singers who specialized in a Spanish form of light opera called the zarzuela. His mother was known as the “Queen of Zarzuela” during the 1940s when that form of music reached its peak in popularity. In 1950 the Domingo family relocated to Mexico after securing a contract to perform there; eventually, Placido Sr. and his wife started up their own operetta company in Mexico City. The young Domingo continued his study of piano in Mexico, and by the time he was in high school considered becoming a conductor. Sometimes he performed in his own parents’ productions. His other great love as a youth was soccer, and he played goalie on his school team as a teenager.
While attending the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, Domingo received instruction in piano and voice. He also studied conducting under the noted conductor Igor Markevich. The first vehicles for his
For the Record…
Born January 21, 1941, in Madrid, Spain; married Marta Ornelas (a lyric soprano); children: José, Placido, Jr., Alvaro Maurizio. Education: National Conservatory of Music, Mexico City, Mexico.
Moved from Spain to Mexico, 1950; studied piano and singing as a child; performed in zarzuelas staged by parents; studied conducting under Igor Markevich; debuted as baritone in a zarzuela (Gigantes y cabezudos), 1957; switched to tenor; joined Mexican National Opera, 1959; had 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 “Three Tenors,” 1990; starred in film versions of Carmen, Otello, and La Traviata; began 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; Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, France; Legion d’Honneur, France.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia/Sony Records, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 833–4321.
singing was musical comedy, among them a role in the Mexican premiere of My Fair Lady. Interestingly, Domingo began his singing career as a baritone, then was convinced to switch to tenor by Carlo Morelli, a former Metropolitan Opera star from Chile who had heard him sing. I used to force a lot,” admitted Pavarotti to the New York Times in 1968. “I was not at all secure on high notes. But I worked, and little by little I began to dominate the sound instead of vice versa.”
Domingo’s first appearance as a baritone was in the zarzuela Gigantes y cabezudos in 1957. Two years later he successfully tried out for the Mexican National Opera, for which he debuted in Rigoletto in 1960. He appeared on stage in his first big role in a performance of La Traviata in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1961, assuming the role of Alfredo. He continued to succeed that year in a performance of the key role of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor in Forth Worth, Texas in 1962, starring with Lily Pons in her final role.
Word reached Domingo in 1962 that the Israel National Opera Company was looking for a tenor, and he traveled to Tel Aviv to land the position. Although not intending to spend more than several months there, he stayed for three years and 280 performances of 12 leading roles, most of them in Hebrew. During the five-month period that he was in Don Giovannion a recurring basis, approximately 120,000 people attended the opera, even thought the city’s entire population was only half a million.
In 1965 Domingo auditioned for the New York City Opera and became part of that company, making his mark in the roles of Don José in Carmen and Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. The following year he opened the season in the title role of the North American premier of the modern opera Don Rodrigo by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Domingo’s performance of a difficult role was heralded by New York City critics, especially his acting. Two years later he had his debut at the renowned Metropolitan Opera House (the Met) in New York when he replaced Franco Corelli as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur. Since that debut he has performed in every season at the Met, logging up over 300 performances of 28 different roles. He has also sung in more opening nights there than any other opera singer except the legendary Enrico Caruso.
Growing fame put Domingo in demand at the most famous opera houses around the world. In 1969 he made his first appearance at La Scala in Milan, then two years later appeared in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Tosca at London’s Covent Garden, and later that month in Barcelona in Manon Lescaut. He received rave notices for his performance as Vasco da Gama in L’Africaine in San Francisco in 1972, as Arrigo in Les vêpres siciliennes in Paris and New York City, and as the title character in Otello in Hamburg and Paris in 1975.
A major new chapter in Domingo’s career began in the 1973–74 season when he made his debut as conductor. He first wielded the baton for a production of La Traviata for the New York City Opera company. Since that time he has conducted leading opera performances in the most esteemed opera houses across the globe, for the Met, Vienna State Opera in Austria, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and others. Domingo has also taken conducting lessons from Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. He later became the principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Music Center, which he helped found.
A lover of many types of music, Domingo has on occasion veered away from the operatic repertory in both performance and on recordings. He had his first pop hit in 1981 when his recording of a duet with John Denver called “Perhaps Love” made it into the Top 20. According to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, this recording began “a parallel career for Domingo in light entertainment,” while “introducing to the mass-market the delights of the operatic aria as well as Spanish love songs.” Eight years later Domingo invaded pop territory again with “Till I Loved You,” a duet with Jennifer Rush that made the Top 30 in the United Kingdom.
In 1986 the tenor received a great honor when he sang the title role in Goya during its world premiere in Washington, D.C., a role that had been written especially for him by composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Making opera accessible to a wider audience has always been a desire of Domingo’s, and he has played a major part in doing so in the 1990s by becoming one of the famed “Three Tenors.” The first performance together of Domingo, Pavarotti, and Carreras at the 1990 World Cup Championship in Rome was a tremendous success and created scores of new fans for operatic-style music. The trio’s popularity was made clear at their celebrated concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angles in 1994, whose television audience of some 1.3 billion made it the most seen and heard event of serious music in history. Over ten million CDs and videos of the event were sold worldwide. The popularity of the Three Tenors resulted in the trio becoming a regular act, and they later went on a world tour that included appearances in Tokyo, London, New York City, Munich, Melbourne, Vienna, Göteborg, Düsseldorf, Toronto, and Vancouver.
A long-time supporter of new operatic talent, Domingo began a vocal competition in 1993 for young singers that offered cash prizes. Winners were also assured of receiving his support in helping them boost their careers. In the fall of 1996, Domingo became the new artistic director of the Washington Opera in Washington, D.C. “We chose him because he is a consummate musician,” claimed Patricia L. Mosel, the company’s executive director, in Time magazine. “He knows voices. He is a very fine pianist. He knows singers, firsthand, having sung with them. What better person to cast and choose repertoire.” Domingo has stressed that the location of the opera in the nation’s capital is a key factor in choosing repertoire. “What I want is to have an American work every year,” he told Time. “The capital of the U.S. has to have American opera.”
Domingo has also appeared in the big screen in filmed versions of the operas Otello, La Traviata, and Carmen. He has contributed his voice to many acclaimed recordings, including eight Grammy Award winners.
Perhaps Love, Columbia, 1981.
Christmas with Placido Domingo, CBS, 1984.
At the Philharmonic, Columbia, 1989.
Domingo Songbook, Sony Classical, 1992.
16 Days of Glory (1984 Summer Olympics), Deutsche Gram-maphone, 1997.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, pp. 611–612.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volumes, Guinness Publishing, 1995, p. 3953.
Sadie, Stanley, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Volume 1, Macmillan, 1992, p. 1194.
High Fidelity, October 1968, p. 1.
New York Times, November 3, 1968, Section II, p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, December 29, 1996, p. 7.
Time, January 27, 1997, pp. 64–66.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the All-Music Guide, Unitel, and BMG Music websites on the Internet.
Intelligence and dramatic conviction reinforced the vocal gifts of Spanish-born lyric-dramatic tenor Placido Domingo (born 1941). In addition to maintaining a large opera repertoire, he later turned to conducting; he was also an accomplished pianist.
Placido Domingo was born in the Barrio de Salamanca section of Madrid on January 21, 1941. His mother's family was Basque, and his father's half Catalan and half Aragonese. His parents, both active in music, were undoubtedly responsible for nurturing Domingo's musical abilities. His father had played the violin in opera and zarzuela orchestras and had sung baritone roles in zarzuelas. (Zarzuela is the Spanish equivalent of the Viennese operetta—a popular theatrical genre that mixes musical numbers with spoken dialogue. Its customary nationalistic plot may be serious or comic and usually involves scenes from everyday life.) What seems to have been a promising career, including a few recordings, was cut short when he damaged his voice by singing with a cold.
Domingo's mother was a professional singer who had made her debut at the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona, Spain's most important opera house. Her interest in zarzuela led to a performance in Federico Morena Torroba's Sor Navarra, where she had met her future husband. In 1946 Moreno Torroba formed a zarzuela company that included Domingo's parents and that eventually travelled to Mexico. Attracted to the country, Domingo's parents stayed and established their own company in Mexico City.
Domingo recalled that he was often pressed into service when the company needed a child. He began studying the piano shortly after the family moved to Mexico City, first privately and later at the National Conservatory. His interest in conducting also stemmed from these early years. At the impulsive age of 16 he met and married a fellow piano student, whom he does not name in his autobiography. A son was born within the year, and shortly thereafter the couple separated.
In Mexico and Israel
Domingo's first professional engagement was as accompanist to his mother in a concert at Mérida, Yucatan, in 1957. Immediately following this he joined his parents' zarzuela company, singing baritone roles and working with other singers as accompanist. His early career also included productions of My Fair Lady, in which he sang the role of the drunkard and was assistant conductor and assistant coach. The group gave 185 performances without interruption. Following this he served similarly in a production of Lehar's The Merry Widow as either Camille or Danilo.
Domingo auditioned for the National Opera (Mexico) in 1959 with several baritone arias, but was then asked to sight-read something in the tenor range. On the strength of the latter he received a contract as a tenor comprimario (singer of secondary roles) and as a coach for other singers. His first role was as Borsa in Verdi's Rigoletto. Other musical activities of the period included playing piano for a ballet company—no doubt to supplement his income—and running a program on Mexico's newly founded cultural television. This consisted of excerpts from zarzuelas, operettas, operas, and musical comedies, all to Domingo's piano accompaniment. A little later he played small parts on another program dedicated to the theater. Among the plays performed were those of Garcia Lorca, Pirandello, and Chekhov.
The number of his opera appearances, mostly in Monterrey (Mexico) and Mexico City, increased steadily from 1960 to 1961, and in November 1961 he made his American debut as Arturo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with the Dallas Civic Orchestra, Joan Sutherland appearing in the title role. One year later, in Fort Worth, he sang Edgardo in the same opera, with Lily Pons singing the last Lucia of her career. Also in 1962 he married the former Marta Ornelas, whom he had met at the conservatory and who eventually sacrificed a promising career for his. She was voted the best Mexican singer of the year 1962.
Before their marriage they, along with baritone Franco Iglesias, formed a chamber opera company that toured Mexico, performing Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna, Menotti's The Telephone, and various duets and trios, with Domingo accompanying at the piano. At the very end of 1962 the threesome signed a six month contract with the Hebrew National Opera in Tel Aviv, which proved such good experience that they extended their stay to two and one half years. Multi-lingual realizations of operas were common for the international cast gathered there. A performance of La Traviata, for instance, included a baritone singing in Hungarian, a soprano in German, a tenor in Italian, and the chorus in Hebrew. Domingo credits this cosmopolitan group for improving his abilities in several languages.
Move to New York City
After leaving Tel Aviv in June 1965, Domingo auditioned successfully for the New York City Opera. His New York debut was scheduled for October 21, 1965, as Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen, but occurred on the 17th when he was asked to fill in for an ailing tenor in Puccini's Madame Butterfly. In February of the following year he sang the title role in the North American premiere of Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo, an event that also marked the opening of the City Opera's new home at Lincoln Center. Don Rodrigo remained the only modernist work in Domingo's repertoire. Although he had sung in open air performances by the Metropolitan Opera of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in 1966, his official Met debut came on September 25, 1968, when he substituted for an indisposed Franco Corelli in Cilèa's Adrianna Lecouveur a week before his scheduled appearance.
Other important debuts were as follows: January 1965 at the Teatro Liceo, Barcelona, in three short operas by little-known Mexican composers; December 1969 in the title role of Verdi's Ernani; and December 1971 as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca, his most frequently performed role. In 1980 Federico Moreno Torroba completed an opera, El Poeta, for Domingo, who sang the world premiere in June of that year. Both Domingo and the critics agreed that, although the straightforward, tonal score contained many attractive passages, the libretto was too weak to support it.
Although Domingo's repertoire concentrated mainly on the 19th century Italian and French masters, his range was considerably wider. In addition to his zarzuela roots and brief excursion into the modernism of Don Rodrigo, he went back as far as Rameau (Hippolyte) and Mozart (Don Giovanni) and touched on Wagner (Lohengrin, Hans Sachs). He also released two popular albums, one with American popular singer John Denver, "Perhaps Love" and later "My Life for a Song." Domingo appeared in commercial film productions of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, and Verdi's La Traviata (1983), all directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and Bizet's Carmen (1984), directed by Francesco Rosi.
Domingo actively pursued conducting opportunities during much of his career. In 1972 "Domingo Conducts Milnes! Milnes Conducts Domingo!" with the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London was released. Later he conducted a New York City Opera production of La Traviata during the 1973-1974 season and a Covent Garden production of Die Fledermaus at the end of 1983.
Achieved Universal Acclaim
Domingo's willingness to explore new musical territories led to Perhaps Love, his album of duets with the late singer John Denver in 1981. Although critics were not especially pleased, the album achieved gold status in record sales. During the nineties, Domingo achieved even greater mainstream commercial success on his Three Tenors collaborations with Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti. The trio first performed together in celebration of the 1990 World Cup Championship in Rome. In 1994 their Dodger Stadium concert in Los Angeles, which was viewed on television by 1.3 billion people and sold more than 10 million CDs and videos, was billed as the most-seen and most-heard serious music event of all time. New York magazine called Domingo a "phenomenon, perhaps the most compulsive overachiever the world of opera has ever known." The singer's immense poularity allowed him to raise millions of dollars through special benefit concerts in order to help the victims of the 1985 Mexican earthquake disaster, in which he personally lost four relatives. At the same time his Three Tenors collaborations introduced millions of new fans to the music of opera. In 1996 Domingo became the artistic director of the Washington Opera while simultaneously launching The Three Tenors World Tour which visited four continents and continued through 1997.
Of the many articles written on Domingo, those in Opera News are perhaps the most consistently revealing. An interview, "What Makes Placido Run?" appeared in the March 27, 1982, issue. Domingo's autobiography, My First Forty Years, was published in 1983. One of the better books of its kind, it is well written and insightful and probably no more self-congratulatory than his accomplishment deserves. □
Born: José Plácido Domingo Embil; Madrid, Spain, 21 January 1941
Called the "King of Opera," Plácido Domingo is one of the most successful opera artists of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The indefatigable Domingo has carved out careers as one of the leading tenors of his time, as well as an opera conductor and administrator of note.
Domingo was born in Madrid to a family of zarzuela (Spanish popular operetta) stars. When Domingo was nine, his family moved to Mexico City, where his parents founded their own zarzuela company. He first performed in his parents' company at the age of sixteen, but his studies were concentrated in piano and composition at the Mexico City Conservatory, and later in conducting.
During his teens his big interest was not so much music as soccer, and he even tried bullfighting, until he was thrown by a bull. Musically he got involved in a variety of adventures—he got a small role in the first Mexican production of My Fair Lady, played piano and sang in a nightclub, accompanied ballet classes, worked in a local opera house as a répétiteur, conducted a zarzuela orchestra, and hosted a music show on Mexican television.
Domingo's opera debut was with the Monterrey Opera as Alfredo in a production of La traviata. Then he spent two years at the Israel National Opera, where he got plenty of chances to sing—280 performances in twelve roles. In 1966 he made his American debut in the title role of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo at the New York City Opera. His Metropolitan Opera debut followed in 1968 as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur, when he substituted at the last minute for Franco Corelli, who pulled out of the performance on only thirty-five minutes' notice.
From there Domingo's career took off, and he went on to sing in every major opera house in the world. At the Metropolitan Opera he has sung more than four hundred performances in more than forty roles and has been invited to perform in more season opening nights than any singer, in 1999 surpassing Enrico Caruso's record of seventeen.
Domingo's repertoire is vast. He has sung more than 120 roles, and his repertoire includes everything from Wolfgang Mozart and GiuseppeVerdi to pop songs, from Richard Wagner and Alberto Ginastera to zarzuela. Many of his more than one hundred recordings have been best-sellers, and he has won eleven Grammy Awards. He has made more than fifty videos and starred in three big-screen movies, including Franco Zeffirelli's La traviata (1982) and Otello (1985), and Francesco Rosi's Carmen (1983). More than 1 billion viewers in 117 countries saw a 1992 broadcast of Tosca, filmed at actual locations of the opera in Rome.
Arguably Domingo has performed before more people than any singer in history. As a member of the Three Tenors—with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras—the group's broadcasts, videos, and stadium concerts have been seen by billions of people around the world.
The group the Three Tenors was born in 1990 in a concert at Rome's ancient Baths of Caracalla celebrating the World Cup, and recordings and videos of the concert sold millions. Since then the Tenors have performed in stadiums around the world, and their videos have become a staple of public television. Their three recordings of performances at three World Cups (Rome, 1990; Los Angeles, 1994; and Paris 1998) have sold tens of millions of recordings, making them the biggest-selling classical recordings of all time.
As a conductor Domingo made his professional opera debut in 1974, and he continued to conduct occasionally through the 1970s and 1980s. His conducting career turned serious when he became artistic director of the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center in 1996. Domingo has energized the company, bringing in major stars and new repertory, and he has established it as an important new player in the opera world. In 2000 he also became artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera.
He is also the founder and director of his own vocal competition Operalia, which he started in 1993 in Paris, and which is held in a different city each year. The competition has attracted more than one thousand young singers, and Domingo personally supervises the proceedings.
In 2000 Domingo received a Kennedy Center Honor, and in 2002 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has had a rose, a train, and a plane named after him, and in 1993 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also known for his humanitarian work, helping to raise millions of dollars for relief of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico.
The hallmark of Domingo's art—whether as a tenor, conductor, or administrator—is his amazing energy and sense of musicianship. He never resorts to tricks or gimmicks and seems to have an unending supply of ideas to power his musical interpretations and artistic initiatives.
La traviata, with the Bavarian State Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber conducting (Deutsche Grammophon, 1977); The Plácido Domingo Album (RCA, 1991).
La traviata (Deutsche Grammophon, 1982); Carmen (Columbia Tristar, 1983); Otello (Cannon, 1985).
P. Domingo, My First 40 Years (New York, 1983).
Born: January 21, 1941
Spanish singer, conductor, and pianist
Spanish-born tenor (the highest natural male voice) Placido Domingo's performances are intelligent and dramatic. He is also a conductor and an accomplished pianist.
Placido Domingo was born in Madrid, Spain, on January 21, 1941. His parents, Placido Domingo Sr. and Pepita Embil Domingo, met while performing in a zarzuela. (Zarzuela is a form of Spanish theater combining musical numbers with spoken dialogue.) His father played the violin and sang baritone roles (the middle range of the male voice, between tenor and bass) until he damaged his voice while singing with a cold. His mother was a singer who had made her first performance in Spain's most important opera house, the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona, Spain. In 1946 Domingo's parents joined a zarzuela company that eventually traveled to Mexico. Attracted to the country, Domingo's parents stayed and established their own company in Mexico City, Mexico.
Domingo began studying the piano shortly after the family moved to Mexico City, first privately and later at the National Conservatory. He also studied conducting. Domingo played soccer at his high school, the Instituto Mexico, and he also tried his hand at bullfighting. At the age of sixteen he met and married a fellow piano student. A son was born within the year, and shortly thereafter the couple separated.
In 1957 Domingo began singing baritone roles with his parents' zarzuela company. His early career also included a production of My Fair Lady, of which he gave 185 performances without interruption. In 1959 Domingo tried out for the National Opera (Mexico) as a baritone, but he was asked to sing something in the tenor range instead. He was hired as a tenor comprimario (singer of secondary roles) and as a coach for other singers. He also played piano for a ballet company to make extra money and appeared on a Mexican television program, playing the piano to accompany portions of zarzuelas, operas, and musical comedies.
The number of Domingo's opera appearances increased steadily, and in November 1961 he made his first American appearance with the Dallas Civic Orchestra. In 1962 he married Marta Ornelas, who had been voted the best Mexican singer of the year. Before their marriage, they, along with baritone Franco Iglesias, formed an opera company that toured Mexico. At the end of 1962 they signed a six-month contract with the Hebrew National Opera in Tel Aviv, Israel. The operas performed there featured an international cast. A performance of La Traviata, for instance, included a baritone singing in Hungarian, a soprano (the highest female voice) in German, a tenor in Italian, and the chorus in Hebrew. Domingo's company stayed in Tel Aviv for over two years.
After leaving Tel Aviv, Domingo was hired by the New York City Opera. His first show was scheduled for October 21, 1965, in Carmen, but four days before the show he was asked to fill in in Madame Butterfly for a tenor who was sick. Domingo's official Metropolitan Opera debut came in September 1968, when he substituted for Franco Corelli in Adrianna Lecouveur a week before his scheduled appearance. Domingo pursued conducting opportunities whenever possible, including a New York City Opera production of La Traviata during the 1973–74 season. He also appeared in film versions of several operas during the 1980s, and he organized benefit concerts that raised millions of dollars to help victims of a 1985 earthquake in Mexico.
During the 1990s Domingo achieved huge success with his Three Tenors performances with Jose Carreras (1946–) and Luciano Pavarotti (1935–). In 1994 1.3 billion people viewed their concert in Los Angeles, California, on television, and they sold more than ten million compact discs and videos. In 1996 Domingo became the artistic director of the Washington Opera while launching the Three Tenors World Tour, which brought opera to four continents and continued through 1997.
In 1998 Domingo agreed to take over as the artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, beginning in 2000. In 1999 he set a record with his eighteenth opening night performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In December 2000 Domingo received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement from U.S. president Bill Clinton (1946–). Domingo was praised for his efforts to expand the audience for opera and to help those less fortunate around the world.
In September 2001 Domingo performed at a service in Yankee Stadium in New York City for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. In December of that year there was concern when Domingo, while performing in Otello in Milan, Italy, faltered and had to leave the stage briefly. He returned after a few moments, however, and completed the rest of the show.
For More Information
Domingo, Placido. My First Forty Years. New York: Knopf, 1983.
Goodnough, David. Placido Domingo: Opera Superstar. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1997.
Stefoff, Rebecca. Placido Domingo. New York : Chelsea House, 1992.
"What Makes Placido Run?" Opera News (March 27, 1982).
Domingo, Plácido, famous Spanish tenor and able conductor; b. Madrid, Jan. 21, 1941. His parents were zarzuela singers; after a tour of Mexico, they settled there and gave performances with their own company. Placido joined his parents in Mexico at the age of seven and began appearing with them in various productions while still a child; he also studied piano with Manuel Barajas in Mexico City and voice with Carlo Morelli at the National Cons, there (1955–57). Originally a baritone, he made his operatic debut in the tenor role of Borsa in Rigoletto with the National Opera in Mexico City in 1959. His first major role was as Alfredo in La Traviata in Monterrey in 1961; that same year he made his U.S. debut as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor with the Dallas Civic Opera; then was a member of the Hebrew National Opera in Tel Aviv (1962–64). He made his first appearance with the N.Y.C. Opera as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly on Oct. 17,1965. On Aug. 9,1966, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Turiddu in a concert performance of Cavalleria rusticana at N.Y.’s Lewisohn Stadium; his formal debut on the stage of the Metropolitan followed on Sept. 28,1968, when he essayed the role of Maurice de Saxe in Adriana Lecouvreur, establishing himself as one of its principal members. He also sang regularly at the Vienna State Opera (from 1967), Milan’s La Scala (from 1969), and London’s Covent Garden (from 1971). His travels took him to all the major operatic centers of the world, and he also sang for recordings, films, and television. He also pursued conducting. He made his formal debut as an opera conductor with La Traviata at the N.Y.C. Opera on Oct. 7,1973, and on Oct. 25,1984, he appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, conducting La Boheme. He commissioned Menotti’s opera Goya and sang the title role at its premiere in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15,1986. In 1987 he sang Otello at the 100th anniversary performances at La Scala. On New Year’s Eve 1988 he appeared as a soloist with Zubin Mehta and the N.Y. Phil in a gala concert televised live to millions, during which he also conducted the orch. in the overture to Die Fledermaus. On July 7, 1990, he participated in a celebrated concert with fellow tenors Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti in Rome, with Mehta conducting. The concert was telecast live to the world and subsequently became a best-selling video and compact disc. Thereafter the “three tenors” toured the globe. In 1993 he sang Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival with extraordinary success. Domingo celebrated his 25th anniversary with the Metropolitan Opera singing Siegmund in Act 1 of Die Walkilre in a performance broadcast live on radio throughout the world on Sept. 27, 1993. In 1994 Domingo was named principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Opera, where he sang the title role in Verdi’s Stiffelio (1995). In 1996 he assumed the position of artistic director of the Washington (D.C.) Opera. In 1996 he also appeared as Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera, where he returned in a remarkable portrayal of Siegmund in 1997. He sang Samson there in 1998. Domingo sang excerpts from Die Walkure and Fidelio with Deborah Polaski at the reopening gala of the refurbished Royal Opera House at Covent Garden on Dec. 1, 1999. On Jan. 26, 2000, he made his belated U.S. recital debut in Chicago, followed by his N.Y. recital debut at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 30, 2000. From 2000 he was artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera while retaining his position in Washington, D.C. One of the best-known lyric tenors of his era, Domingo has gained international renown for his portrayals of such roles as Cavaradossi, Des Grieux, Radames, Don Carlo, Otello, Don Jose, Hoffmann, Canio, and Samson. He publ. an autobiography, Placido Domingo: My First Forty Years (N.Y, 1983).
D. Snowman, The World of P. D. (London, 1985); L. Fayer, Von Don Carlos bis Parsifal: P. D., 25 Jahre an der Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna, 1992); R. Stefoff, P. D. (N.Y, 1992); M. Lewis, The Private Lives of the Three Tenors: Behind the Scenes With P. D., Luciano Pavarotti, and Jose Carreras (N.Y, 1996); C. Schnauber, P.D. (Boston, 1997).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire