Tuesday 20 March 2018

Classical: Master singer who has found new voice in his golden years

Still going: Placido Domingo will turn 75 on Thursday.
Still going: Placido Domingo will turn 75 on Thursday.

George Hamilton

If you're heading for the 3Arena in Dublin tomorrow night, be prepared to sing "Happy Birthday". The star attraction, Plácido Domingo, dubbed the King of Opera, turns 75 next Thursday, and according to the publicity, celebrations are planned for the maestro.

One of the original Three Tenors who broke the mould with their stunning debut concert on the eve of football's World Cup Final in Rome in 1990, his star still shines brightly.

"If I rest, I rust" is his motto, and it's such a part of him that he's registered it as a trademark. There's certainly been little rest for Domingo across a career that has lasted over half a century.

He says he learned the virtues of hard work from his parents, Plácido senior and Pepita, who relocated from Madrid, where he was born, to Mexico when Plácido was eight.

They were zarzuela performers - that's Spanish light opera - and they went to Central America to set up their own company. They'd put on two shows a day, and three on a Sunday. The boy was immersed in music.

He began piano lessons and married a fellow student at the age of just 16. It didn't last (but enduring support has come from his second wife of 53 years now, Marta Omelas, a singer herself who became an opera producer),

The young Domingo pursued his music, playing in bars to make ends meet before finally embarking on the voice lessons that would transform him into one of the world's greatest tenors.

He was much in demand from an early stage, making his New York debut in 1965, and singing at Covent Garden for the first time some six years later. It was around then that the New York Times Magazine suggested that he might be taking on too much and was in real danger of burning himself out.

Forty-odd years on, we have our answer. Colon cancer, a pulmonary embolism, the removal of an uncooperative gallbladder have all been overcome. Plácido Domingo is still going strong.

Not in the way of old, though. The passage of the years has had its effect on that remarkable voice, lowering it ever so slightly so that now, instead of dazzling as a tenor, he sings as the grumpy old men who get the baritone part.

No bother to him, for in his heyday he played right across the range.

He's taken on almost 150 roles, from suave Italian lovers to doughty Wagnerian dreadnoughts.

His longevity is legendary, as is the breadth of his involvement in music. He describes himself as "Singer, Conductor, Administrator".

The star is very much at home in front of an orchestra, baton in hand, and he's had a long and distinguished career directing operations.

He co-founded the Los Angeles Opera in 1986, and after a spell as artistic director of the Washington Opera, returned to take charge in Los Angeles in 2002.

He's been there ever since.

This is his first visit to Dublin in almost 12 years, and is one of five concerts on three continents he's taking on in the opening weeks of the New Year - he started in Chicago, was in Moscow last Thursday, will be in Miami the week after next, and finishes up with an open-air concert in the national football stadium in Montevideo in Uruguay on February 1.

If you aren't in the audience tomorrow night, you could do worse than put on his collection of Verdi arias for baritone (Sony Classical 0888837331227), and enjoy the evidence of a smooth transition to the lower register.

It was Wagner who wrote about Mastersingers. It's a title that was made for Plácido Domingo.

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