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Plácido Domingo leads an uptempo life

The world-famous tenor and L.A. Opera general director performs in Costa Mesa, on 'Dancing With the Stars,' at Dodger Stadium, then onward.

October 12, 2012|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times

Miked, coiffed and dusted with TV makeup, the world's busiest opera tenor was ready for his close-up.

"Welcome, Katherine Jenkins, back to the ballroom," barked the "Dancing With the Stars" announcer, "along with the amazing Plácido Domingo, who's just as gorgeous!"

It was a balmy October evening at CBS Television City studios on Beverly Boulevard last week, and a surreal mash-up of the famous (Kirstie Alley, Emmitt Smith) and would-be famous were squaring off in an "all-star" edition of ABC's hit dance-contest whack-a-thon.

With split-second prime-time precision, three chandeliers descended from the studio's rafters and a string quartet magically materialized on stage.

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Then Jenkins, the voluptuous 32-year-old Welsh mezzo-soprano, and Domingo — the Madrid-born citizen of the world, L.A. Opera general director and member of the most famous brand name in the history of classical music, the Three Tenors — launched into "Come What May," a creamy love ballad from "Songs," Domingo's new Sony Classical collection of pop solos and duets with the likes of Josh Groban, Megan Hilty and Susan Boyle.

As the tune climaxed, two lithe young dancers glided onto the floor, and the well-prepped studio audience clapped and shrieked its approval. Standing in front of a floor-to-ceiling video screen, Domingo drank in the spectacle with an avuncular smile that gave no hint of his breakneck timetable.

"I think that I have been all my life overextended," he said a few minutes later. "I have been busy all of my life. It's kind of my spirit."

To put it mildly. A lifelong showman who disdains rigid distinctions between "high art" and popular culture, Domingo is near the peak of his artistry and his global popularity, and at 71 he shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, he may be speeding up. Later that evening he was heading to Dodger Stadium to meet the baseball team's new owners and help sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch of a late-season showdown with the Giants, with the Dodgers' playoff hopes on the line.

The night before, at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, he'd nailed the lead baritone part in a concert version of Verdi's "The Two Foscari," which he and L.A. Opera have been performing fully staged to start their season at the Music Center. It was the 140th operatic role that Domingo has essayed in a career that has yielded more than 100 recordings and made him a year-round fixture at the world's leading opera houses.

The next morning he was booked at an L.A. recording studio. The day after that he would be conducting a rehearsal of L.A. Opera's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni," which he'll perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sunday night before flying to Spain. There, he'll preside over the inaugural Plácido Domingo Festival in the Andalusian cities of Seville and Malaga this fall.

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It was, in short, a typical 24-hour cycle in the life of a consummate crossover artist who's as comfortable crooning swoon-fest standards like "Bésame Mucho" and "The Girl From Ipanema" (both on his new record) as he is belting out Wagner arias.

"You know, my parents, they were performers and they had their own company, and they had to battle a lot," Domingo said while cruising toward Dodger Stadium, tucked in the back seat of an oversize van.

He'd just bolted from the "Dancing With the Stars" set into a parking-lot trailer, where he doffed his tailored suit and threw on a Dodgers jersey with his name emblazoned on the back — a gift from the team. En route to the ballpark with him were Marta Domingo, his Mexico-born wife of a half-century (and an opera director herself); his grandson Dominic Domingo, 24; and his indispensable factotum, Nicholas Marko.

"They had two zarzuelas daily," Domingo continued, referring to the traditional Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that was his parents' specialty, "and then when they finish those two they rehearse the two for the day after. And on Sunday, three. When they tell me, 'Plácido, you work a lot,' I don't know if I work a lot. I know the way my parents used to work."

Hard to say no

The maestro's marathon session had begun the previous night in Costa Mesa, headlining "Foscari," a little-known early gem in the Verdi canon. Stripped of props and sets, the concert version put the focus on Verdi's rapturous music, the stops-out playing of conductor James Conlon's orchestra, and the voices of Domingo, soprano Marina Poplavskaya and tenor Francesco Meli.

The couture-clad Orange County audience, which has been without a major professional opera company since Opera Pacific folded four years ago, rewarded the performers with a massive ovation. When the cast took their bows, Domingo, whose old-school courtesy would flatter a Renaissance courtier, handed his bouquet of roses to a surprised (and pleased) female violinist.

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