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Opera star Placido Domingo at 80

Anastassia Boutsko
January 20, 2021

Despite his age, his COVID illness in 2020 and the #MeToo accusations, the man just keeps on singing. Even at 80, Placido Domingo is still on stage.

Placido Domingo at a press conference
Placido Domingo in 2018Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

When discussing his age, he prefers to speak in French. "Quatre-vingt" (translated: "four times twenty") sounds better than saying that he will kick off his ninth decade of life on January 21, 2021, Placido Domingo said at a meeting with journalists in Moscow at the end of October 2020.

His name, translated from Spanish, means something along the lines of "quiet Sunday," but it was precisely on Sundays that the mega-opera star almost never had a day of rest in the past 60 years on stage. "There has almost always been a performance or a concert."

Placido Domingo standing on stage at the opera gala at the Bolschoi Theater in Moscow in October 2020, along with tenor Yusif Eyvazov and conductor Tugan Sokhiev)
Placido Domingo at the opera gala at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in October 2020 (left: tenor Yusif Eyvazov; right, conductor Tugan Sokhiev)Image: D.Jusupov/Bolschoi Theater

Marathon of operas

On stage at 80, though no longer as a tenor but as a baritone, the Madrid-born artist has long since broken virtually all records.

For over 60 years, his distinctive, sensual voice has enchanted music lovers. Domingo has given almost 4,000 performances as a singer, impersonating over 150 roles. The power of his interpretations has always been impressive, including most recently at the end of October 2020 at a gala concert at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The concert, which took place despite the COVID pandemic, showcased major stars of the opera world, Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala and Michael Volle. According to Domingo, it was a kind of "overture to his 80th birthday," which he celebrates on January 21.

The choice of the location for this "overture" was not chosen randomly: The #MeToo movement has not really taken hold in Russia yet, so Domingo can continue to perform in the country not only with his amazingly young-sounding and powerful voice, but also with a sort of "clean slate" in his standing there.

Allegations of sexual harassment

Domingo no longer wants to comment on the allegations of sexual harassment, which were made against him in August 2019 in the United States. He said that he had taken "full responsibility for his actions" and apologized, which was a shift, since he first denied he had ever "harassed" anyone. Numerous statements from women working in the opera world testified to the contrary: "Inappropriate activity" ranging from flirtation to sexual advances were reported, though mostly anonymously. No charges were ever filed.

Anna Netrebko and Placido Domingo performing in costume on stage
Stage partners: Anna Netrebko and Placido Domingo performing "Il Trovatore" at the Salzburg Festival in 2014Image: Getty Images

The scandal has cost the workaholic Domingo his career in the United States and his post as artistic director at the Los Angeles Opera.

Even his home country, Spain, has placed a sort of ban against Domingo, who was once celebrated as a near god there. According to the singer's  latest statement to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, he would like "an honest clarification in a personal conversation."

Otherwise, he said, he would like to leave the subject behind him and "devote himself to other challenges." Russia is the perfect place for this: Since his Russian debut in 1974, the country has been at his feet. Even President Vladimir Putin is one of Domingo's fans and has invited the singer to join his cultural advisory board (which Domingo politely declined, citing his busy schedule). In return, the maestro promised to appear on Russian stages as a singer and conductor several times in the coming year, and further invitations are to take him to Mexico and Italy. In Domingo's case, the music world seems to be lenient.

Optimism helped him cope with corona

In an interview, Domingo explained the phenomenon of his stage longevity with the intercession of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of all musicians, to whom he prays before every performance.

The singer also points to his sense of optimism, which he also did not lose even during his COVID-19 illness that he endured with his entire family back in March 2020. He can even glean something positive from the five-month coronavirus recovery break he took, spending that time at his vacation home in Acapulco. It allowed him to spent a lot of time with his family, his three sons and numerous grandchildren, playing the piano and "thinking about his life," he said.

An exceptional career as singer and business man

Placido Domingo was born in Madrid on January 21, 1941. His parents were both singers in the zarzuela genre, a form of Spanish operetta. The family soon moved to Mexico for professional reasons. Fascinated by such diverse sports as soccer and bullfighting, he was admitted to the country's National Conservatory of Music at the age of 14. His debut as a soloist followed at the age of 18.

Domingo with wife Marta at an awards reception in 1999
Domingo with wife Marta in 1999Image: Imago Images

After marrying Marta Ornelas, a fellow musician — now 86 and still her husband's adviser in most matters — they both sang at the Tel Aviv Opera from 1962 to 1965. Domingo's international career kicked off two years later, first in Europe, then in 1968 with this debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This was followed by appearances on all the world's major opera stages. However, the singer performed most of his roles at the Metropolitan Opera: 46 different roles in more than 800 performances.

In the 1990s, Domingo forged new territory in the acceptance of classical music outside concert halls. As one of the "Three Tenors" — together with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras — he was loved even among audiences who were not otherwise interested in classical music. But the trio's performance at the 1990 World Cup is what truly catapulted them to cult status. The project brought the singers and the makers outstanding commercial success, with the albums of the "Tenorissimi" selling over 20 million copies.

Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, with James Levine conducting on stage
'The Three Tenors': Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, with James Levine conducting in Munich in 1996Image: picture-alliance/dpa

From Verdi to Wagner, from tenor to baritone

Domingo's main repertoire has been French and Italian operas, with a focus on composers Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and Georges Bizet.

The singer has always been one for surprises, however: Visitors to the Bayreuth Festival in 1991, for example, were astonished when the "king of bel canto" appeared unannounced in the auditorium during a performance of Richard Wagner's Parsifal opera. He didn't stay in the audience for long, however: The following season, Domingo took the stage, singing the title role, and mesmerizing the audience with his soft, melodic Wagnerian singing.

Performances and studio recordings of other Wagner roles followed: Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried and Tristan. The Spaniard also held his own in the Russian repertoire — for example, as Hermann in Queen of Spades by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of his golden roles.

Has he thought about quitting? In an interview with the German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2009, Domingo said: "I won't sing a day longer than I should. But I also will not sing one day less than I am able to." Eleven years later, in October 2020, he gave a more precise answer to this question to the newspaper El Mundo: He said that he still expected to perform on stage for another year or two, and also that he still had "a lot of other plans."

Old age, the opera singer said, was "not an excuse for losing enthusiasm or no longer dreaming."


This article from adapted from German by Louisa Schaefer.