An Interview with Tenor Placido Domingo
By Bernard Whitmore and Erin Hansen
As a writer, I am seldom at a loss for words. Adjectives like “wonderful” and “awe-inspiring” come to me easily. But on rare occasions, even a vocabulary full of superlatives is not sufficient; such is the case when trying to describe the experience of seeing and hearing Plácido Domingo perform live at the Quebec Summer Festival concert on July 17. Thanks to the hospitality of Melissa Brisson, the Tourism Promotion and International Media Relations Officer for this (and future!) year’s Quebec City Summer Festival, we were guests at the outdoor concert that took place in breathtaking Old Quebec City (Note: this is a three week long festival that last year boasted Paul McCartney as one of its headliners and this year ~ in addition to Mr. Domingo ~ played host to Sting, who drew (and thrilled) a crowd of over 120,000 fans on what turned out to be a beautiful night on July 18, as well as Jeff Beck, Styx, and KISS ~ not to mention countless other bands, solo artists, and street performers).
Accompanied by Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec under the direction of Conductor Israel Gursky, Mr. Domingo performed operatic arias, zarzuelas (operettas typical of his native Spain), and ~ in a lovely twist ~ even pop songs! This spectacular (for so many reasons, from the talent onstage to the venue itself to the sheer joy on the faces of the audience) the performance was, in the best sense of the word, reminiscent of the legendary outdoor concerts given by The Three Tenors ~ Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and, of course, Plácido Domingo himself.
Let’s backtrack a bit. A couple of months back, Ms. Brisson extended an invitation to Vitality to interview Mr. Domingo ~ and as you can imagine, she did not need to ask twice ~ how could we pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Mr. Domingo graciously took the time to talk with us from Moscow so that we could give you a glimpse of the man behind the voice, a glimpse of what makes the world’s greatest tenor the beloved and respected artist that he is.
We now share with you our interview with Plácido Domingo.
First, let me thank you for taking this time to consider my questions. It is an honor for me and for our readers!
What opera roles and other projects do you have coming up in the near future? I read that your motto is “To rest is to rust,” so I suspect you have some exciting plans.
It is my pleasure. Actually the motto is a little different. It reads “If I rest, I rust.” I don’t really know whether it applies to everyone else so I like to keep it in first person. I am still very busy because I love music and what I do. I love to discover new music for me and I am constantly learning a new role or musical piece. I suppose my most important upcoming endeavors would have to be an upcoming Hollywood Bowl concert conducting Yo-Yo Ma in Dvorák´s cello concerto and Tchaikovsky´s Symphony No. 5, as well as the title role of Simone Boccanegra in Verdi’s Masterpiece. It is a wonderful role that I had always dreamt of doing one day and I will sing it for the first time this fall in Berlin.
You are known to have passions that extend beyond music. Will you share some of them with us?
…certainly sports, all sports, but in particular soccer, Formula 1 racing and tennis. I have my very specific favorites in each discipline ~ in last year’s European Champions Spain, my very own Real Madrid, two time World Champion Fernando Alonso and of course Rafael Nadal. I guess another passion of mine could be food and restaurant services. I now own the Restaurant Pampano in New York, Mexico City and Acapulco. My grandmother use to have a restaurant and I guess that is where I developed this passion.
As an individual, not just an artist, are there any life goals/dreams that you consider yet unfulfilled?
Since I love what I do so much, it is often difficult to separate the two. In order to help discover, nurture and promote the new operatic talents of the next generation, I created three Young Artist Programs in Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Valencia respectively as well as the competition Operalia which Quebec so beautifully hosted last year. I guess that preserving these programs and their continuous success remains a principal goal of mine. I am thankful every day for what I have already accomplished and as eager and dutiful to continue so long as I can.
Is there a single opera you’ve found to be the most challenging?
It is difficult to say. Every single role has its particular demands. On stage alone represents the biggest challenge. You are up there to do your very best every night.
You have traveled extensively ~ do you have a favorite country? A favorite venue?
I am happy and eager wherever I go. I have made a home in New York because of the Metropolitan Opera House and the history that I have made there, but Acapulco is my sanctuary. It is where I recharge my batteries during the short holidays that I do sometimes have.
You’ve sung in every language of opera… do you have a preference?
Once again each has its demands. I suppose Italian and German is what I sing most and perhaps for that they could be my preferences, but it is just that the Italian and German repertoires are also the most exquisite to perform. I work hard at the pronunciation of all the languages that I sing on, but I guess my accent might be stronger in some like perhaps English.
Do any other genres of music inspire you? Infuriate you?
All classical music inspires me. It is my formation as both a singer and a conductor. I don’t think I could say that any kind of music infuriates me. I adapt to my time, my sons and my grandchildren’s preferences. If perhaps, I would only say that I prefer the more melodic variety. Since my hearing is so important for my work and life, I also prefer safe volume.
Just as many people seem intimidated by opera as love it. Do you have any words for those who consider opera unapproachable?
I guess I could only recommend that they try it. I can guarantee that they are going to fall in love with it.
How do you maintain your singing voice?
I just lead a relatively normal life. I need my good sleep and a balance diet like anyone else. I do try to have an entire rest day, both physical and vocal before a performance or concert. And I also think that I have chosen my repertoire very carefully, knowing when to leave a role behind and when to try a new one.
Even with such an extraordinary career to your name, do you feel as though you still have things to learn about opera?
I guess not about opera, but rather to learn new roles, if time and voice permit.
How do you train for a new opera? How much practice does it require?
First of all you need to learn the part. Being a musician and reading music from the very beginning of my career helped me learn roles without tiring my voice. Once you have comprehended and memorized the role you start to sing it in rehearsals. One usually has a couple of weeks of studio and stage rehearsal to fine touch the role for the General Rehearsal. Depending on the part, its melody and the language, it may take shorter or longer.
What (or whom) has motivated your career?
My wife Marta.
Was it an early aspiration to sing in such a range of operatic roles?
No, not at all; I just took it day by day. In Tel Aviv I sang a great number of roles and then I just got accustomed to learning roles fast. There is so much and such beautiful music that I just wanted to try other roles and characters.
Do you listen to recordings of your work? Are you critical of yourself as an artist?
During the recording process, yes, I do and often to correct and fine tune phrases and sign off on it, but once the final product comes out, I seldom have the time to sit down and listen to it. Yes, I am but to an extent. Life performance is different every night. The day that I am not fully satisfied or passionate about my performance, probably neither will the audience listening to me.
Many musicians have spoken out against the technical advances in how music is produced and in how we receive and listen to it nowadays. Has this affected you and how do you feel about the future of music?
No, I am fine with how technology evolves and how the fidelity of recordings grows. What has changed enormously are the distribution channels. As a recording artist, surely it affects me as much as it has affected the labels.
We are very much looking forward to being in the audience when you perform in Quebec in July. Do you have any thoughts on that upcoming performance?
It is simply a pleasure to return to Québec so soon after Operalia last year but this time to sing at the Plains of Abraham. I love the chance to meet a new audience and for a new audience to listen to me life, perhaps for the first time. I hope to see you there.
Thank you so much for your time.
With my friendship,
If you have the chance to witness Mr. Domingo performing live ~ regardless if it’s your first time or your twentieth ~ take it. And if you have the opportunity to attend the Quebec Summer Festival in 2010, don’t miss it. More information about next year’s festival will soon be available at www.infofestival.com.
It is an absolutely wonderful destination and event perfect for all ages ~ grandparents, parents, and grandchildren alike.
Vitality also wishes to extend special thanks to Jean-Sebastien Brousseau, Alvaro Domingo, and Mélissa Brisson…