Wednesday’s Los Angeles Opera press conference centered around celebrating Plácido Domingo. Board members and politicians were on hand to offer their praises, stories, and tokens of appreciation to the organization’s General Director and probably the world’s most famous living opera singer. The reason for this latest round of adulation? Three things:
- The uber-tenor-cum-baritone’s upcoming turn as Venetian Doge Francesco Foscari in LA Opera’s new production of Verdi’s rarely performed I Due Foscari (The Two Foscari), opening on September 15th, marks the 140th role of his career. Mr. Domingo made the point that the count is actually higher than 140 if you include more non-theatrical roles such as the tenor parts in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the Verdi Requiem. That said, the 140 number matches Twitter’s character limit, allowing the smart folks at LA Opera to create a nice little contest for the twitterverse to share thoughts about their favorite Plácido role; the winner, Heather Kaplan, was announced at the presser (see her winning entry HERE), and for her winning efforts, she won tickets, backstage passes, and after-party access for the opening night of Foscari.
- On October 16th, Sony Classical consummates their new exclusive recording partnership with Mr. Domingo with the DVD release of the world premiere performance of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino from LA Opera’s 2010 production, with Grant Gershon conducting. Also being released on the same day is a new “cross-over” CD titled Songs, featuring duets with the likes of Josh Groban, Susan Boyle, Harry Connick Jr., among many others. (The DVD release is a great move, and will be a nice tribute to the late composer. Not sure who’s idea the CD was, but I’m sure some people will eat it up — I’ll reserve judgement for now).
- November 17, 2012 marks the 45th anniversary of Mr. Domingo’s debut performance in Los Angeles. Way back in 1967 when opera in Southern California came largely care of touring productions, New York City Opera brought along the then up-and-coming Spanish tenor in the title role of Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo. (A little sad to think of what has happened to NYCO since then, but I digress. . . . ). To help commemorate that occasion, Marc I. Stern (LA Opera Chairman of the Board) presented Mr. Domingo with a framed photograph and program from the production. Mr. Stern bemusingly pointed out that Mr. Domingo got third billing on the program, in stark contrast to the poster for Foscari in which he gets top billing, even above the name of the opera and composer.
Some additional comments and observations from the event:
- Sitting alongside Mr. Domingo was James Conlon, LA Opera’s Music Director. Also sitting on the dais were Mr. Stern, Christopher Koelsch (the company’s new President and CEO), Zev Yaroslavsky (music fan, budding performer, and Los Angeles County Supervisor), and Thaddeus Strassberger (the Tulsa native and director of I Due Foscari).
- To add to the statistical count, Mr. Stern noted that Mr. Domingo has sung 28 different roles in Los Angeles (including 24 roles with LA Opera) amounting to 87 performances.
- Mr. Conlon reflected on all of Mr. Domingo’s accomplishments and declared his boss “unattainable in his greatness.” (Full disclosure: the term “Doge of Los Angeles” is also Mr. Conlon’s). He mentioned that it was 35 years ago, almost to the day, that he first met Mr. Domingo in a rehearsal for La bohème; he told the story of how he thought Mr. Domingo knew who he was based on a brief conversation they had had earlier in the day, but that when he appeared in the rehearsal room, Mr. Domingo confessed to not knowing what Mr. Conlon was doing there with him. The two gentlemen laughed at the notion of how their relationship has evolved since then.
- Despite the clear focus of the day being on Mr. Domingo, there was some noteworthy praise tossed Mr. Conlon’s way too from many people, including Mr. Domingo, and how important he is to the company and to the city. Mr. Conlon responded by saying that, “Los Angeles is one of the greatest places to be, to live, and to make music.” Given the speculation surrounding his possible departure from his Music Director’s post at LA Opera after this coming season (for the Met, among other possibilities), all of the comments were nice to hear; whether they mean that he’ll stay, one can only hope.
- Mr. Domingo’s comments were extensive. He started by giving many “thank yous,” and then recounted his history with opera in Los Angeles and his involvement with Peter Hemmings in founding LA Opera in the afterglow of the very successful 1984 visit of the Royal Opera Company (Convent Garden) as part of the Olympic Arts Festival. He continued with comments about Verdi and I Due Foscari; he noted that while some of it sounds like early Verdi, he added, “It is amazing how advanced the work is on many points. . . . When Verdi writes bel canto, it is absolutely king-sized bel canto.”
- Mr. Domingo noted that his 141st – 144th roles would all be Verdi baritone parts in celebration of the bicentennial of the composer’s birth: the title role in Nabucco, Germont in La Traviata, Giacomo, the father of the title character in Giovanna d’Arco, and the Conte di Luna in Il Trovatore.
- During the Q&A, Mr. Domingo was asked whether or not it is harder for him to memorize roles now compared to when he was younger. He replied that his memory is still there; however, he doesn’t have as much time to study and learn scores now as he used to have. He added that the best time for him to study was during long plane rides of 10 hours or more because he was least likely to be interrupted during those times.
- Mr. Koelsch was the day’s emcee, a role which he handled with ease and a refreshing lack of self-aggrandizement. He also happens to win the prize for best shoes of the day. Granted, they looked a lot like the pair I happened to be wearing that same day, but you shouldn’t hold that against him.
- Mr. Strassberger mentioned that he shared a birthday with Mr. Domingo, something he learned when he was 10 years old and he was given a Met Opera calendar which included birthdays of some of that company’s stars. He noted that the two would spend their joint birthday together in Valencia working on I Due Foscari at the Palau de la Musica. FWIW, Mr. Strassberger sported one of those accents whose origins you can’t identify; it was vaguely Euro-sounding, but not quite. Perhaps that is what happens when you spend major chunks of your life in such diverse places as Oklahoma, New York, and Italy.
- Not surprisingly, Mr. Domingo had a constant throng of people surrounding him, even after the press conference broke up. Everyone else of note was fairly accessible and very willing to chat.
- Montage of Placido Domingo: courtesy of Los Angeles Opera
- All other photos: CK Dexter Haven for All is Yar