Now you see him, now you don’t.
Famed tenor Placido Domingo, who juggles concert dates around the world with the job of artistic director for both Washington and Los Angeles opera companies, is the only Kennedy Center Honors recipient this year who might be considered a local star as well as a nationally recognized leader in the arts.
Yet just when you think he has put down roots and is staying a while, he jets off again for guest performances elsewhere in this country or abroad. He has headlined so often at New York’s Metropolitan Opera that speculation has grown about whether he might seek to cap his career by becoming that company’s artistic director.
Last year he broke superstar Enrico Caruso’s record at the Met by inaugurating the opera’s season for the 18th time. He performed in “I Pagliacci,” one of his signature roles. In September, he had a title role in Camille Saint-Saen’s “Samson et Dalila” with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. A New York Times critic hailed his performance, saying how “the poignant timbre of his sound is unchanged, and his notes are fearlessly dispatched.”
Mr. Domingo is so recognizable as a personality that he is among many celebrity artists invited to pose on behalf of the superstatus Rolex watch. Just this week, he also acquired the title of “godfather” to the second Airbus 321 in Spanair’s fleet, in a ceremony at the Seville airport. The airline honors legendary living Spaniards by naming each of its new Airbus 321s after one of them.
Mr. Domingo, 59, has done just about everything in the musical world except possibly appear as the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster movie. That isn’t beyond imagining, given his attractive visage. (His latest CD is titled “Songs of Love.”) He is famously personable up-close as well, exuding a special blend of Latin and European warmth and charm.
As an example of this touch, he thanked stagehands in remarks at this year’s gala opening-night dinner after the Washington Opera’s difficult production of “Don Quichotte,” which had 175 people on stage at one point.
He is the founder of Operalia, an international vocal competition. He also founded the Los Angeles Opera, which had a different name at the time, and in July he became its artistic director.
Not expected to make an imprint in Los Angeles until the 2001-02 season, Mr. Domingo has been quoted as saying the company should “create a diversity of repertoire” and offer many co-productions — with the Washington Opera as well.
He mentions “world premieres of contemporary music,” which would seem to set that company’s selections apart from the repertoire of the Washington Opera, where he has been artistic director since July 1996.
One of his earliest moves on the West Coast was to commission George Lucas’ special-effects company, Industrial Light and Magic, to design a new version of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle for 2003. In another move, he hired several film directors, including William Friedkin and John Schlesinger, to direct future operas. Mr. Friedkin will tackle Bela Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” and Giacomo Puccini”s “Gianni Schicchi” for 2001-02.
Undoubtedly, having the Domingo name upfront will increase contributions to the Los Angeles company. Already, a program ensures that certain individuals will pledge $1 million over four years.
Friends of Mr. Domingo’s say his peripatetic rounds and seeming inability to say no are merely responses to demands for a talent that allows him to cross many cultural divides as singer, conductor and director. He has 115 opera roles in his repertoire and a reputation for having sung more parts than any tenor in music history. He is known for his dramatic instincts in performing as well as his musicianship.
This weekend’s award ceremony follows yesterday’s television appearance on WETA-TV of the popular Three Tenors (Mr. Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti) singing holiday favorites. Last month, local audiences saw Mr. Domingo in the taxing lead role of Washington Opera’s much-acclaimed production of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.”
On Jan. 27 at DAR Constitution Hall, he will conduct the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and Washington Opera chorus in a special concert of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.
“If I rest, I rust” is the motto Mr. Domingo has inscribed on his official Web site (www.placidodomingo.com), which continues the explanation by saying that “he has been blessed with very good health and stamina, which allowed him to be on the go all the time.”
Mr. Domingo’s superhuman schedule probably has made him the most publicly visible tenor in the world. He has starred in more than 50 videos and three theatrical film roles. He also is said to have been the first classical artist to have a solo concert in New York’s Central Park, which attracted 400,000 people in inclement weather. He also owns a restaurant in New York called Domingo, which specializes in Spanish and Mexican food.
On top of that, he promotes himself as a family man. He has been married since 1962 to soprano Marta Ornelas, a fellow student at the National Conservatory in Mexico City. The couple soon left for Tel Aviv to spend nearly three years performing together with the Hebrew National Opera.
Born Jose Placido Domingo Embil in Madrid to famous zarzuela singers (his father also was named Placido), the tenor first studied conducting and piano — not singing — in Mexico, where his parents moved when he was 8.
He and his wife are parents of two sons, Placido Jr., born in 1965, and Alvaro, born in 1968. Marta Domingo recently turned to directing operas while maintaining her role as right hand to her famous husband.
What Mr. Domingo’s Web site does not reveal is an earlier marriage at age 16, which produced a son, who in turn became a father at age 16. The unusual coincidence made Mr. Domingo a grandfather at 33. He is a source of support for his granddaughter, an aspiring actress.
This bit of personal information came out in a recent interview Mr. Domingo did with a reporter for the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. (Attempts to reach Mr. Domingo for this article were unsuccessful.)
He was quoted as saying in the same conversation that he expected that he could go on performing as a singer for four or five more years. “I don’t know. The maximum would be when I am 65, which will be the year 2006. But you cannot predict. I did not think I would be still singing now, but here I am.”