Los Angeles Opera / Music News & Info: Classical

My chat with Plácido Domingo about singing Schubert lieder, plus Renée Fleming ponders singing baritone too

Renee Fleming and Placido Domingo (photo by CK Dexter Haven for allisyar.com)It’s quite been quite a week for Southern California opera fans:

  • Los Angeles Opera just finished a three-show run of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire starring soprano Renée Fleming as Blanche DuBois, a role she created in the original 1998 production for San Francisco Opera.  Reviews have been mostly positive:  Timothy Mangan (Los Angeles Registergenerally liked it despite some flaws, Mark Swed (Los Angeles Timesliked it even more, Opera Warhorses liked it more still.
  • Playing in repertory is Thaïs by Massenet for six performances, with soprano Nino Machaidze in the title role and LA Opera General Director Plácido Domingo singing his latest baritone role, Athanaël.  Critics have been mixed:  Tim Mangan mostly appreciated the singing, but found the production “just aggravating,” and other unpublished folks I know echoed the sentiment; on the other hand, Opera Warhorses and Mark Swed practically drooled over it.  
  • As if that weren’t enough, LA Opera brought in Siberian bass-baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky for a recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
  • On the other side of First Street, the Los Angeles Philharmonic began a four-performance run of Cosi fan tutte at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the final leg of their three-year Mozart/DaPonte cycle.
  • A couple hours’ drive south, San Diego Opera was able to finally announce that despite earlier statements to the contrary, they will have a 2014/15 season after all.

Due to an unusually busy schedule, I was only able to make it to one of these events:  this past Sunday’s Cosi at WDCH (my review, plus some photos, coming soon).

Fortunately for me, LA Opera invited a few people over to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on May 15 to join Christopher Koelsch (LA Opera’s President and CEO) as he led a discussion with Ms. Fleming and Mr. Domingo.  It was the first time these two opera superstars sat down together for any kind of public conversation, though you wouldn’t have known it given how easy-going their banter was. Mr. Koelsch did a nice job prompting them with a relatively short list of topics, but mostly he stayed out of their way as the two singers traded insights and stories.

I also had a chance to briefly chat one-on-one with each of them.

I asked Mr. Domingo if, given his current move into the operatic baritone repertoire, he had also considered doing any non-operatic baritone repertoire — perhaps Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer or some Schubert lieder.  Who among us wouldn’t want to hear that?  Here is his response:

“Well, you know, it is [something I’ve considered].  What is missing is time.  My life is the stage, in a way.  To do concerts — to do the Winterreise or something like that — takes a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, A LOT of time to prepare, and the stage doesn’t lend me that luxury.  Perhaps one day, let’s say — and I’m not looking forward [to it] — that being on stage is very tiring because it takes hours and hours to rehearse . . . if they say, ‘Okay, Plácido, maybe physically it’s too much for him, but he can sing these other things,’ then maybe I’d do it.  But as long as I can live on the stage, and I can represent these characters, I will continue with them.”

Renee Fleming responds to a question (photo by CK Dexter Haven for allisyar.com)

Similarly, I asked Ms. Fleming what dramatic soprano — and even mezzo-soprano — parts she would sing if she could, especially given.  Her reply:

“Gosh, there are more heavier soprano roles that I’d love to sing like the Tosca, the Norma, the Butterfly, those things that we all love so much.  The mezzo repertoire, I haven’t really thought about it much because I’m so busy doing what I do.”

We chatted about it a little more, and I reminded her about the very credible recording of “He shall feed His flock” and “Come unto Him,” the back-to-back airs from Handel’s Messiah which are normally sung by a mezzo-soprano and soprano, respectively.  Separately, she said:

“You know, I’d sing anything I could — I’d sing baritone roles if I could.  It’s interesting, the voice changing happens to some people . . .  and in my case, my voice has not really changed.  So it’s not given me the opportunity to sing other repertoire, so I’m sticking with Strauss, for example.”

My photos from that day are below, along with two videos I took from the open discussion:  the first is of Mr. Domingo talking about singing baritone roles and conducting, the second is of Ms. Fleming talking about her role as Creative Consultant for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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Photo and video credits: CK Dexter Haven exclusively for All is Yar


3 thoughts on “My chat with Plácido Domingo about singing Schubert lieder, plus Renée Fleming ponders singing baritone too

  1. My going-out-on-a-limb prediction of the week: by the time Renee Fleming reaches the same age as Placido Domingo is now (73), she will not be performing in staged operatic productions anymore.


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