At the culmination of a stellar career, Plácido Domingo is proving to audiences in Los Angeles that his ample experience and insight can make magic. Leading up to the 50th Anniversary Concert later this month, he has given some noteworthy performances recently.
It is not unusual for Plácido Domingo to take on a variety of roles, both on and off stage. He maintains an active performing career as singer and conductor in addition to his work as a cultural impresario and entrepreneur. He serves as General Director of the Los Angeles Opera; Chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry; President of Europa Nostra; Founder of Operalia, the World Opera Competition; and proprietor of Pampano, his restaurant in New York City.
As a conductor, he has participated in several opera productions this year. He conducted Romeo et Juliette by Gunod at the Metropolitan Opera in the Spring before conducting The Pearl Fishers in Los Angeles.
Robert Leeburg, a long-time LA Opera subscriber, has seen both of the recent LA Opera productions that featured Plácido Domingo. He commented about witnessing the legend onstage.
The main plot line of the The Pearl Fishers surrounds the conflict between the vow of eternal friendship between two fishermen, Nadir and Zurga, and their love for the same woman Leïla, a priestess of Brahma, who herself faces the dilemma of choosing between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess. The score by Bizet is melodic and at times emotionally evocative.
Have you seen Plácido Domingo conduct before the recent performance of The Pearl Fishers?
I may have seen him when I was very young at one of my first opera events, but I don’t specifically recall details about him conducting.
On that occasion, I went to Otto’s after the opera and ended up meeting Plácido Domingo. In that era, the performers would come into Otto’s café after the performances. He came in with a great flourish to a round of applause. As he made his way through the restaurant, he kissed every woman’s hand and shook every man’s hand, including mine, and thanked the patrons. That made a huge impression on me.
What did you see as his greatest influence on the production of The Pearl Fishers?
When he first took the podium, he had a strong stage presence and charisma, a detectible warmth about him. The audience went crazy when he first came out. For the rest of the performance he blended in with the rest of the opera performers. They connected with him. Since he is a singer, he is able to understand completely what the singers do. It is similar to what happens when an actor becomes a director. They can bring out elements of a performance based on their own experience.
The opera Nabucco depicts the plight of the Jews as they are persecuted and subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco (in English, Nebuchadnezzar II). The historical events of the era form the backdrop for an intertwined romantic and political plot. The lead Role of Nabucco is central to the story.
How was Plácido Domingo as a singer in Nabucco vs. conductor in The Pearl Fishers?
Vocally he was just as impressive as he has been in other roles, like Macbeth. Rather than elaborate further on his singing, which is obviously incredible, it seems interesting to note that he has a very naturalistic style of acting, beyond the basic opera norm. He made the crazy scene seem very real. He avoided overplaying the character, and instead portrayed Nabucco in a more dramatic style.
He didn't overshadow the other singers, especially the other principals onstage like Abigaille. Because he also conducts, he sees the importance of the ensemble.
What else stood out about the production of Nabucco?
It would have been tempting to put such a huge star at the center of the action onstage and focus the scenery directly on the lead role of Nabucco. Instead, the LA Opera had some very creative staging. In this production they presented essentially a play within a play. The 19th century “audience” that was setup onstage watched the Middle Eastern scenery of Nabucco, which was also onstage. For example, the nobles were escorted out and seated in the 3-story box seating area on the stage to watch the production of Nabucco that unfolded in front of them onstage. Although it might have been a little confusing at first as an offstage audience member, it ended up being a very cool effect.
The upcoming 50th anniversary concert on November 17th promises to be another feather in his cap for Plácido Domingo. A diverse set of artists, including Garth Brooks, will be performing alongside him on that special occasion.