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Placido Domingo, L.A. Opera Score Fund-Raising Victory

Opera * New artistic director gets donation from longtime friend with big pockets and a love of the arts.

July 24, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tenor Placido Domingo, who took over as artistic director of Los Angeles Opera July 1, has made his first fund-raising coup by snagging a donation to the opera company from billionaire money manager and noted arts philanthropist Alberto Vilar.

Vilar, a longtime friend of Domingo's and thought to be the largest opera donor in the world today, will underwrite the company's September production of Verdi's "Aida," which opens Los Angeles Opera's 2000-2001 season. It is his first donation to the L.A. company, where he will also join the board of directors.

Domingo, artistic director of Washington Opera as well as L.A. Opera, has been credited with solidifying the D.C. company's bottom line. The 1996 gala that welcomed him to the Washington appointment raised $2.6 million, believed to be a record for nonpolitical fund-raisers in the nation's capital.

Over the past decade, Vilar has given gifts totaling $33 million to New York's Metropolitan Opera. Other donations and pledges worldwide include $5.6 million to restore the Seventh Avenue facade of Carnegie Hall, $6 million to the Salzburg Festival, $10 million to London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and underwriting for major productions by the Kirov (Maryinsky) Opera and Ballet Company.

Vilar also provides the award money for Domingo's annual Operalia World Opera Contest, which awards more than $175,000 to promising young singers. The eighth annual Operalia will be held in Los Angeles Aug. 31-Sept. 5 at UCLA's Royce Hall, the competition's first visit to Los Angeles.

Vilar, 59, is president and founder of the Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc., a $7.5-billion management company that focuses on new technology. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Amerindo has headquarters in New York and San Francisco.

Domingo said through a spokeswoman that Vilar has pledged "ongoing support for the L.A. Opera. . . . Alberto's support for opera extends itself worldwide from the Kirov Opera to Covent Garden, and now from the Metropolitan Opera to the L.A. Opera. I have known of his deep love for opera, and of his extraordinary generosity first hand, because he contributes all the prizes to my yearly voice competition, Operalia."

Los Angeles Opera officials would not disclose the amount of Vilar's donation, but executive director Ian White-Thomson confirmed that Vilar is the sole underwriter of "Aida," which will star soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Johan Botha. The Sept. 6-28 "Aida" was a long-ago co-production with Houston Grand Opera that L.A. Opera had never mounted. It is being revamped for the upcoming season.

"We'd really hate to get into revealing [the amount of the donation], because then we'd have to do it for everybody," White-Thomson said. "This is his first donation, and it's not a gigantic donation, so it might seem a rather small amount in terms of what his long-range plans are . . . . We're going to have a significant relationship with Alberto after he joins the board in September. I think it's very appropriate that the first opera of Placido's regime should be underwritten by him."

Said Vilar Friday through an Amerindo spokesman: "My very good friend Placido Domingo, who has just taken over as the artistic director of Los Angeles Opera, thought it would make sense for me to join him on the board, since we work so well together and share a fundamental belief in co-productions. Placido and I also have identified a number of other world-class [opera] houses with which we could work on co-productions."

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