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The Domingo Factor

Los Angeles Opera's new artistic director outlines his strategy for putting the company 'on the map.'


Call it the Placido Plan. Announcing a bold and ambitious design to bring Los Angeles Opera the kind of artistic identity it has lacked in recent years, the company's new leader, Placido Domingo, has unveiled his strategy for its next three seasons and beyond.

At a press conference Monday, and in a separate conversation with The Times, Domingo put forth an agenda whose key points include: presenting a world premiere each season starting in 2002; the company's first ever "Ring" cycle, to be staged at the Shrine Auditorium and designed by Industrial Light & Magic, the George Lucas-founded special-effects firm; and co-productions with major international opera houses. He also discussed his new emphasis on conducting, calling the company's recently named principal conductor Kent Nagano "almost . . . a music director" and announcing an ongoing relationship with acclaimed Kirov Orchestra director Valery Gergiev, who is currently conducting Domingo and the Kirov in concert performances of Wagner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

On the money side, the celebrity tenor made public significant new contributions to Los Angeles Opera, including a $2-million gift from billionaire opera donor Alberto Vilar to underwrite productions for next season.

In addition, Domingo promises to make good on his previously expressed intentions to tap the Hollywood talent pool and reach out to the Latino community, as well as to expand the company's training program for young artists.

"We can see a bright future with all these wonderful things that we want to do," said Domingo, who officially took charge in July. "This will really put us on the map."

In contrast with Los Angeles Opera's founding general director Peter Hemmings, who in recent years relied heavily on revivals of a handful of operas in the standard repertory, Domingo emphasized that he would program primarily works that had not been seen here before.

"The philosophy of Los Angeles Opera should be to create a diversity of repertoire and also of scenic representations," said Domingo. "The really important things to me are co-productions with leading companies of the world, world premieres of contemporary music and finding stage directors and designers with extraordinary vision.

"Starting in the 2002-03 season, we'll try to do a world premiere every year, with the most exciting American and European composers," he said. "A world premiere is always a big risk, but I think we will take the risk."

In fact, three new operas have been commissioned. The first, from famed Italian modernist Luciano Berio, will star Domingo in the story of his own life and is planned for 2002-03. For 2003-04, former New York City Opera composer-in-residence Deborah Drattell will create a new work based on Russia's last czar and czarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. And Hollywood stalwart John Williams has been tapped for an opera on a subject still to be announced, to be premiered in 2004-05. Domingo also confirmed that Los Angeles Opera plans in the future to present a new work by Esa-Pekka Salonen. In its 14-year history, L.A. Opera has presented only two world premieres.

Two other projects with Berio were announced. The composer will create a new ending for "Turandot," left unfinished at Puccini's death in 1924, in a North American premiere next season. And for the 2002-03 season, in addition to the original opera, Los Angeles Opera has commissioned from Berio his own orchestration of Monteverdi's "The Coronation of Poppea."

Los Angeles Opera's "Ring" cycle will begin in spring 2003, with "The Rhine Gold"; the final three installments, "The Valkyrie," "Siegfried" and "Twilight of the Gods" will follow in the 2003-04 season. Calling it a " 'Ring' cycle for the new millennium," Domingo revealed that the Wagner epic will be staged by German director Peter Mussbach working with Industrial Light & Magic. The planned "Ring" represents the first time the entire cycle has been staged in L.A.

"We have to create something new with this 'Ring' because everything has been seen," said Domingo. "I went to Industrial Light & Magic to make something that will be unique; in the land of Hollywood, it has to be. I can assure you that if Wagner was alive today, he would find exactly what he wanted [in today's technological capabilities]."

At the press conference, Domingo introduced principal conductor Nagano. The internationally renowned Nagano, who will officially assume his duties starting in the 2001-02 season, has already been heavily involved in creating Los Angeles Opera's future, according to Domingo. Along with working on the company's major commissions, Nagano promised to help bring "the next generation" of composers to L.A. Opera through commissioning works to be presented in venues smaller than the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

"I admire Domingo's courage to reach out and try something new," said Nagano. "It's inspiring."

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