LOS ANGELES: As the World Cup nears, football (aka “soccer”) fanatics will inevitably veer the conversation toward the beautiful game. That includes Placido Domingo, who explains why, at 73, he can still get down on one knee to declare his love to the soprano.
“I was a goalkeeper and I know how to throw myself onto the floor,” the Spanish opera celebrity said.
Even if his sporting past has served him well in his career, the tenor-turned-baritone never expected to be still singing on stages all over the world.
Because of that unexpected longevity, he finds himself doing double duty as leading man and general director for the LA Opera, where he wraps up its 28th season this weekend as the love-struck monk Athanael in Massenet’s “Thais,” the 139th role of his career.
Around 18 years ago, Domingo took over the direction of the Washington National Opera, and then more than a decade ago became director of the Los Angeles company.
“I really thought I would be singing for a very short time,” he said during an interview at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where he first performed in 1967. “That’s the reason I started thinking of being a director of a theater. The voice is there, so I keep singing.”
After making a full recovery from a pulmonary embolism last year, the Spanish opera singer credits his continuing career to a passion for what he does and just plain luck that his voice is healthy.
“Many people younger than me don’t sing anymore, and I am still singing,” Domingo said. “I don’t know for how long, maybe for two weeks. In any case, my plans are for three years, at least.”
Domingo’s choice to go with the fledgling LA Opera in the mid-1980s now looks like a smart one. One of his roles back then was to cultivate relationships with Hollywood’s creative community and bring film directors in to ply their trade in opera.
LA Opera today acts as an anchor tenant in the artistic and urban renaissance of downtown Los Angeles along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic next door at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“The entire reason the company is the fourth largest in the U.S. is directly attributable to his artistry,” said Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s president and chief executive officer, “and I think more broadly to the audience’s trust in his taste of singers, conductors, productions.”
As L.A. operagoers’ local company is relatively young, they don’t necessarily have preconceived notions of how a classic opera like Verdi’s “La Traviata” should be produced.
“They want it to feel much more cutting-edge, a little bit looser, a little bit freer,” Koelsch said. “We are respectful of the tradition but not burdened by it.”
Domingo, for instance, will open LA Opera’s next season in September in the role of the father, Giorgio Germont, in “La Traviata,” set in the Roaring Twenties with Art Deco sets and directed by his wife, Marta.
“We have to do exciting things,” Domingo said, “for new people.”
Across the street, the LA Phil under Gustavo Dudamel – the young Venezuelan superstar conductor – has won widespread acclaim for a trilogy of Mozart operas, with stages built by renowned architects and costumes by fashion designers.
Domingo and Koelsch dismiss any notion of an operatic turf war in downtown LA, however. “I wish we would like to do things together sometimes and I think there is the possibility,” said Domingo, who is friends with Dudamel. “We are ready and willing.”
After his final performance Saturday, Domingo retreats to Europe before making his way to Brazil for the World Cup. He will arrive in time for the quarterfinals and is betting his beloved Spain, the world champions, will be in contention.
Domingo’s performances will include a big concert in Rio de Janeiro two days before the final. The Spaniard confirms he’ll be at Rio’s Maracana Stadium on July 13.
“I have been at the finals since 1974,” he said.