Placido Domingo - The Queen of Spades - Tchaikovsky - Francesca Zambello
Royal Opera House - Covent Garden - Otello - La Scala
Samson and Delilah - Camille Saint-Saens - La Traviata - Franco Zeffirelli - Buseto

It was really HIM – that charming man from Madrid, brought up in Mexico City, on stage singing to me. He was in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, playing the part of Gherman. He sang superbly bringing all his stage maturity to this most demanding role. The story is based on Pushkin’s famous horror story of an old countess who knows the secret of the three-card trick. Gherman, an army officer, has two dilemmas: his love for Lisa and his manic gambling desire to win a fortune at cards. In the scene where he frightened the old countess to death in order to obtain the secret of the cards reminded me of my father that lost everything gambling and drinking and then, like Gherman, died in dire poverty and despair.

Last year the psychological theme was a Francesca Zambello’s production for the Royal Opera House (you can read about it on my web site But this year it was with HIM, Placido Domingo and THE OTHER ONE I keep following around, the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. Gergiev is one of the most outstanding conductors of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. The opera was SOLD-OUT. It was unforgettable in every aspect – the production, the singers and the conductor, all equally magical! It was visibly apparent that Domingo was moved by the evening’s outcome and repeatedly mimed thanks to Gergiev. By this point, I too was very emotional as we all rose to them at the curtain calls. The performance was played for two other audiences besides the one I was sitting in – a big screen outside the Opera House in Covent Gardens and another screen in Canada Square, Canary Wharf.

The soprano Susan Chilcot, who played Lisa, was making her debut with Domingo. She said, “I have a great sense of disbelief and, of course, a natural degree of anxiety. One day I’m digging potatoes in the garden, baking, putting my son’s toys away. The next I am travelling to London, meeting Domingo and signing with him for the first time.” Dame Jose Phine Barstow sang the role of the Countess; she has had a career in opera for more than 30 years. Sir Thomas Allen sang Prince Yeletsky and made his Covent Garden debut in the 1971-1972 season. Placido Domingo was also celebrating 30 years of performance at the Royal Opera House. He made his debut at Covent Garden as Cavardossi in Tosca. Like many great singers, he is approaching the final stages of his career. He started as a baritone and remarked; “I was never a natural tenor. I had a baritone range and had to work upward, half-tone by half-tone. Maybe I learnt to cope with vocal difficulties better. Of course there are operas that I don’t do anymore. I explore other areas instead.” He has sung 119 operatic roles and will sing Rasputin in an American opera about Tsar Nicholas II next year. He says, “I am not trying to get in the record books, as some suggest. I do it out of admiration for composers. They spend years creating opera. Lots of suffering. Lots of sweating. Then their works are forgotten. I find that sad. And I wish a lot more people in opera would see it that way.”

At the opening season at La Scala in December 2001 he sang Verdi’s Otello and nearly had a breakdown. It’s been 25 years since he first sung Otello on the stage at the La Scala. On the second night he had to stop singing, a doctor was called and he collapsed off stage. He said, “The La Scala doctor found my blood pressure was very high and the doctor said ‘Placido, don’t go out and sing again’.” However, he did go out and finish the performance and at the final curtain the Milanese public cheered for 40 minutes, but he cancelled the following days performance. (On a bit of a different note, while I’m talking about La Scala, I am reminded that at the moment it is undergoing restoration. For the time being, performances are continuing at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi.)

This past February Domingo played the role of Samson in Camille Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delilah; it was his 100th performance as Samson. Then the following Sunday Domingo went to Busseto to conduct La Traviata directed by Franco Zeffirelli. So he really has a busy life!! But he doesn’t know when he is going to make his farewell as an opera singer. He said, “I don’t know yet how to end my career. Is it better to select a couple operas and take them on a farewell tour around the opera houses that have been central to my life? I’m not sure. I just may step forward one night and say ‘Ladies and Gentleman, that was my last performance.’” He also said, “Maybe I could sing another four, five years. I don’t know. The maximum would be when I am 65 which will be in the year 2006. But you cannot predict. I did not think I would be still singing now, but here I am.” In any case, he is now on his way to Japan for the quadrennial of the Three Tenors that has been repeated since the 1990 World Cup in Rome. I was there!!! I will follow them this time on TV, hoping Pavarotti joins them (Luciano was a goalkeeper in his youth). Domingo said, “Yes, we tenors are like footballers, who passion for the beautiful game is secondly only to his devotion to his art. Some players manage to appear in four World Cups, and so will we. Mind you, Lothar Mattaus and Antonio Carbajal, the goalkeeper for Mexico in the 1950’s, played in five each. I somehow doubt that the Three Tenors will make it to Germany in 2006.” AHHH!!!!!!

As part of his operatic schedule Domingo is the Artistic Director of both the Washington Opera and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera and regularly conducts for both orchestras. I saw a programme of his on TV conducting and coaching young musicians. He has stepped up his conducting commitments as opposed to his singing engagements. He is also President of Friends of the Mariinsky Theatre. I suppose he holds many other positions and has many other interests that I am unaware of. He lives in New York. (Yes, in the Watergate building, that of the Watergate investigation. It takes its name from the building that drove Nixon to resign. The Watergate scandal is also celebrating its 30th anniversary and TV dedicated programs about Watergate with interviews with Richard Nixon. This famous building had – and has – many famous residents including John Warner and Liz Taylor, Monica Lewinsky, Condolleza Rice, Laura Bush and Bob Dole.)

Domingo’s parents (both zarzuela singers) left for Mexico when he was 8-years old. He went to the National Conservatory but his education was interrupted at 16, when he married his teenage girlfriend and had is first son, Jose. And as it is said history does repeat itself. Jose also married and had a child at 16 making Domingo a grandfather at age 33. His granddaughter met her famous grandfather for the first time at age 15 and Domingo has been helping her out since then. But he was disappointed to know that she was posing naked for Playboy. He said, “I am hurt. I am hurt for my family, and of course, I am not happy about it.”

His second wife is Marta Ornelas, a soprano, whom he married in 1962. They lived in Mexico and then Tel Aviv for three years performing together at the Hebrew National Opera. Then they moved to Amercia and Marta ended her career to look after their two sons now aged 35 and 33. Marta closes an eye to rumours of other women, but Domingo says, “Many things are fictitious, but the woman is great if she understands.” HUMMMMMM! Anyway, the ecstatic ovation they received at curtain call was fully deserved. This is also my 30th anniversary of not-so-wedded bliss.


Verinha Ottoni.


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