Opera star Placido Domingo shares insight about life, career

STORY BY GEORGINA BENISON –
Photos by KHALID ALBUSAID –
On Monday evening aficionados of Opera were treated to a private interview with one of opera’s greatest living legends. In advance of his performance in Verdi’s, ‘La Traviata’ at the Royal Opera House Muscat next weekend, an opportunity to meet and pose questions to the Spanish maestro was given in the East Porch.
Director General, Umberto Fanni, caught Placido Domingo between rehearsals for his baritone role as Germont. Domingo has performed over 150 operatic roles during his fifty-year singing career, has made one hundred recordings and earned twelve Grammy awards. But what was he most proud of? Considering the location it was a privilege to conduct Zeffirelli’s production of ‘Turandot’ for ROHM’s inauguration in 2011. He was the first conductor in the Gulf’s most prestigious building’s first Opera. He also complimented Umberto’s farsightedness in bringing so many opera companies to Muscat and introducing new audiences to a wide variety of music in the Sultanate; of making people happy. The range of comedy (opera buffa) to tragic opera -of which ‘La Traviata’, based on Dumas’ play, ‘La Dame aux Camellia’ is one of the finest – all have a cathartic effect as the viewer loses himself in the fantasy unfolding on stage. It is a fourth-wall experience where life’s stresses are forgotten .
He outlined a strong contrast between live and pre-recorded performance, where the public “discovers” a singer for themselves and makes their own decision about the quality of the performer, despite any hype or history. He is proud and happy to be doing what he does, emphasising the forthcoming Los Angeles production of ‘La Traviata’ which is directed by his wife, Marta Domingo, with choreography by the first-class Spanish Antonio Gades Company which will provide dazzling Boleros in Act Three. A question which this reviewer posed was the difference between conducting and singing to him as an artist. On Sunday, Maestro Domingo will conduct the Orchestra Teatro Massimo di Palermo while Simone Piazzola will sing the role of Germont. He explained that he came from a family of Zarzuela musicians, and his father encouraged him to take piano lessons and then study conducting – they had no idea if he would make a talented singer! But later he reaped the rewards of that training as he could learn the operatic roles by himself while others had to make expensive commitments with vocal coaches.
He spoke of the responsibility of a conductor to the music. While he always feels nervous before singing he does not when conducting. However the concentration demanded of conductors is immense, and they need to be mentally ahead, anticipating what they want from the music in advance. He praised the amazing quality of a new generation of singers, a Golden Age of Opera with opportunities in many theatres. It is a tough world if students are not top quality, but his own project, ‘Operalia Festival’, goes a long way to encourage new performers. All their students find positions through visiting agents.
The evening concluded with the Maestro’s own recommendation for the current V&A exhibition at the House of Musical Arts: “400 years of Opera” for its original scores, costumes from nineteenth century Vienna including Empress Eugenie’s tight gown, as a glimpse of real history. He hoped that music lovers will visit the gallery AND come to see ‘La Traviata’. After that insight, how could anyone miss?