IRAKLION, Greece — For Placido Domingo, one of the world's top operatic tenors, the horror of the Mexican earthquake struck a personal blow.
Domingo--who emigrated to Mexico from Spain as a child and has a Mexican wife--lost an uncle, aunt, nephew and cousin in September's quake, an experience that he says has profoundly affected his life. The earthquake killed about 7,000 people.
Now he hopes to donate about $4 million to the victims of the earthquake after canceling many engagements to sing a series of charity concerts.
He flew to Mexico from Chicago the day after the quake and spent 12 days helping to rescue survivors and look after the injured.
"I can't describe what it was like," Domingo said in an interview in this port city on the island of Crete, where he was making a film of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Otello," directed by Franco Zeffirelli. "The noise, the screaming, the despair affected me deeply."
Domingo said he had recently started singing again after a two-month break. The rest had been advised by doctors because of problems with his voice, caused by a mask he'd had to wear against infection.
"My voice is fine now and I'd like to give up a whole year for charity concerts, but theaters and managers won't let me," he said during a break in filming.
Domingo canceled six appearances in a new production of "Otello" for Covent Garden next spring but agreed to sing "Simon Boccanegra" there for four nights instead, in part because the latter work demands fewer rehearsals. He will sing "Otello" there in 1987.
He said he has already done charity concerts in Bari and Zurich and is scheduled to perform in London, Paris, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Milan and several American cities.
"I'll go back to my ordinary contracts when I've finished the concerts, but what I would really like to do is go on singing for Mexico," Domingo said.
The 44-year-old singer, who made his operatic debut as Alfredo in Verdi's "Traviata" in 1961, dismissed suggestions that he runs the risk of being overtaken by other tenors by the time he returns to full-time professional singing.
"Today it's very difficult for other singers," he said. "You have your place, and nobody will take it away from you just because you don't appear on stage so often."
Domingo said his wife, Marta, and his close friends supported his idea of singing the charity concerts. "My wife is very happy, and even though my friends say they are sad they won't see me in so many performances, they know it's for a good reason."
He said he planned to continue singing at least 10 more years and then turn more seriously to conducting, of which he has already done a fair amount.
Domingo, who has come under fire from some critics for making records of popular songs, defended the idea of filming operas, saying such films help to win the art a new audience.
"A big percentage of people who like opera go to the cinema to see films of operas and on top we get a new public, people who just go to the cinema regularly," he said. "We are doing good for opera. Lots of books and plays have been made into films, so why can't an opera which is a masterpiece be shown in the cinema?"
The filming of "Otello" has brought large amounts of money to the town of Iraklion, local officials say. Zeffirelli had part of the city wall and a medieval warehouse in the port restored and a castle facade built. Local Greeks have taken part in the film as extras.