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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

Afterward, in the backstage dressing-room halls, L.A. Opera's administrative team buzzed about the evening, as the musicians hoisted their instruments and headed toward the waiting buses.

"I'd love to be able to get here a couple times a year," Christopher Koelsch, L.A. Opera's chief operating officer, told a visitor. "There's clearly an audience for it down here."

Domingo, who's always looking for ways to spread culture to the underserved masses, seconded the idea of L.A. Opera making regular forays to the wilds of Costa Mesa. "I think the public, it is hungry for opera," he said. "Opera fans in Orange County, they come to the Music Center, but not as many. People think twice before thinking, 'I have to be stuck in the traffic.'"

The "Foscari" production lent further proof of Domingo's progress in mastering baritone roles, which he has taken up in recent years as his still-robust voice deepens with age. Like Lear or Prospero, the Venetian doge he plays in "Foscari" — a powerful man confronting his own mortality, torn between duty and family — is tailor-made for lions in winter.

"I suppose that I should be very satisfied with the career that I have made," Domingo said when asked about the challenge of taking on new roles. "But I realize that if the voice is there I should still sing. I mean, the passion is there intact, like ever."

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Three years ago, a spate of newspaper stories raised questions about whether Domingo was spreading himself too thin. He has since given up one of his long-standing commitments by letting his contract as general director of Washington National Opera expire in June 2011.

Still, he constantly pushes himself. Domingo acknowledges "it kills me" that his schedule can be so wildly unpredictable and demanding and that he spends so many hours on planes crisscrossing time zones. "I think I should do more exercise," he said. "But I think I eat well. I rest when I have to rest."

His grandson, an aspiring singer himself, offered another perspective. "He'll tell you, the most stressful part of his days are meetings," Dominic said. "The singing and doing the music, he loves all that. And being Plácido comes with so much 'Could you please come here?' 'Could you please come see this?'

"There are many times where someone will ask him something and we're all like, 'Don't say yes!' And he's just so giving, it's hard for him to say no."

The night after the "Foscari" concert and a post-show dinner at South Coast Plaza, Domingo slept in late and puttered around at his downtown L.A. hotel. (Before turning in, he'd followed his habit of studying a few pages of an opera score, in this case Massenet's "Thaïs," which he first performed last spring and will reprise in Seville.)

Early that afternoon, he arrived at CBS Television City for a five-hour regimen of sound checks, rehearsals and clothes fittings, leading up to his brief "Dancing With the Stars" segment.

Like a handful of other crossover stars — Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind — Domingo devotes himself mainly to classical music but can shift into other genres without breaking a sweat. And why not, he suggests? Isn't that what previous generations of opera singers always did?

"[Enrico] Caruso used to sing a lot of popular songs," Domingo said, speaking of the great Italian tenor. And if there'd been television in the days of Caruso and Beniamino Gigli, Domingo added in his slightly idiosyncratic English, "for sure they would go to television."

"Maybe there are two or three [singers] that they would be very purist and say, 'No, I don't want to do it.' Fine. I respect it. But since I was lucky enough to be part of something that made a great revolution in the music, which was the Three Tenors, what else can I say, you know?"

He just keeps playing

The trip from CBS to Chavez Ravine sped by in a blur of conversation. As the van pulled up at Dodger Stadium, an L.A. Opera publicist came running to meet the maestro's entourage. Soon the group was being bustled along a maze of tight stairways and tunnels toward the owners' box.

Domingo is an avid sports fan who in his youth played baseball (third base) and soccer (goalkeeper). Practically every step through Dodger Stadium evoked a memory: watching Kirk Gibson's game-winning homer in the opener of the 1988 World Series; performing there with the Three Tenors in 1994. He counts Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver and basketball's Pau Gasol, a fellow Spaniard, among his close friends.

"I'm so glad he stays in Los Angeles," he said of the Lakers' star forward, who has become an opera fan since meeting Domingo. "What a gentleman, and what a player. I think there's a goodness in him that you can almost see it."

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