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Plácido Domingo renews contract with Los Angeles Opera

He will remain as general director through 2013. The company celebrates its 25th anniversary this season.

September 20, 2010|By David Ng and Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times

Tenor Plácido Domingo has renewed his contract with Los Angeles Opera and will stay on as the company's general director through 2013, the organization announced Monday. Domingo's current five-year contract was set to expire in June.

Perhaps the most recognizable name in the operatic world, Domingo has served as the public face of L.A. Opera since he assumed the role of artistic director at the company in 2000. In 2003, his title was changed to general director.

As L.A. Opera's top man, Domingo oversees all aspects of the company's management, including programming, casting and administration. In addition, he frequently appears onstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as a performer and in the orchestra pit as a conductor.

The announcement comes as L.A. Opera kicks off its 25th-anniversary season this week with the world premiere of Daniel Catan's "Il Postino," based in part on the popular 1994 movie of the same name. Domingo stars in the Spanish-language production as the exiled poet Pablo Neruda. He will also conduct a production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" that runs in parallel with "Il Postino."

Domingo was in rehearsals Monday and could not be reached for comment. At an L.A. Opera news conference held this month to promote the new production, he expressed an eagerness to continue in his role as general manager.

The tenor, who turns 70 in January, continues to perform with companies around the world while holding his position in L.A. In addition, he serves as general director of the Washington National Opera, where his contract is set to expire in June as well.

Some critics have faulted Domingo for spreading himself too thin among his various international commitments. In an interview with The Times this year, the tenor rejected those claims, saying he is proud of his achievements at both companies.

Marc I. Stern, the chairman of L.A. Opera, said Monday that Domingo "is as involved with the company as he should be" and that he remains on top of local developments even while traveling. "It's a huge advantage for L.A. Opera to have him — it would be wasted if he spent all his time in L.A. sitting behind a desk," said Stern.

L.A. Opera's financial health has suffered in recent seasons as the economic downturn took a toll on donations and ticket sales. The company's $31-million production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle, which was rolled out over the last two seasons, put additional strain on its resources.

In early 2009, the company laid off 17 employees, or approximately 17% of its staff, and mandated pay cuts for all employees. In December, the company received a $14 million emergency loan approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to help cover immediate costs.

At the news conference, L.A. Opera leaders said the company has set aside a large enough portion of $30 million in emergency donations that its board members have pledged to guarantee that it will make good on the debt.

"It was a monumental act of confidence on [the supervisors'] part, and we won't let them down," Stern said during the news conference.

The most recently available public figures show that Domingo earned $814,000 in 2008-09 as an executive and a performer at L.A. Opera, with $414,000 paid and $400,000 deferred.

The Washington National Opera also has suffered financially in recent years, implementing layoffs and programming cuts. The company, which is exploring a merger with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said it has not renewed its contract with Domingo.

In the past, Domingo has brought up the possibility of retiring, but he continues to maintain a full performance schedule. Earlier this year, the tenor underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove a cancerous polyp from his colon. The procedure forced Domingo to withdraw from some of his engagements during the season.

L.A. Opera has operated without a solely dedicated chief operating officer since Edgar Baitzel passed away in 2007. Stephen D. Rountree, president of the Music Center, pulls double duty as chief operating officer of the opera company. A spokesman for L.A. Opera said that Domingo will make an announcement about how that position would be filled.

david.ng@latimes.com

mike.boehm@latimes.com

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