Spanish tenor Domingo sings farewell to Washington

8th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

At 70 years old, he climbs ladders, rolls on the ground and his voice shakes the room: Placido Domingo is Oreste in "Iphigenie en Tauride," a performance-style farewell to the Washington National Opera, which the Spanish tenor has led for 15 years.

Visibly tired but delighted, Placido Domingo earned a long ovation Friday night on the stage of the Washington National Opera (WNO). He steps down as general director on June 30.

To mark the occasion, the tenor gives eight performances in the role of Oreste in Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera that premiered in Paris in 1779. It's the same role he performed in Madrid on his 70th birthday in January, at the Teatro Real opera house.

Alternately, he leads Donizetti's opera "Don Pasquale," as conductor until May 27.

The role of Oreste was originally written for a baritone but adapted to the tenor voice of Domingo, who began his career as a baritone at the age of 18 in Mexico, before being told he in fact had the voice of a tenor.

In this production from Opera de Oviedo (Spain), Domingo's Oreste is Iphigenie's long-lost brother who is condemned to death. It's not an easy turn for a septuagenarian, who last year underwent surgery to remove a cancerous polyp from his colon.

Domingo as Oreste arrives on stage in chains, and guards throw him to the ground, before he is to be sacrificed to the gods by his sister, Iphigenie. But brother and sister find the courage to escape and triumph over their oppressors.

Though he is leaving as general director, Domingo doesn't plan to disappear.

"I am singing because I can," he told The Washington Post. "But why I am still able to sing, you know, this is a big mystery for me.

"I think that one day I will have the feeling that that's it and I will go out and I will say to the public 'Ladies and gentlemen, that was my last opera performance,'" he added.

The WNO last year appointed Philippe Auguin of France as music director but Domingo's replacement has not been named.

Born in Madrid, Domingo moved to Mexico as a child with his parents, who ran a company that performed zarzuela, the traditional Spanish operetta.

Domingo, well known to popular music audiences for his "Three Tenors" performances with Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti, made his operatic debut in a leading role as Alfredo in Verdi's "La Traviata" in Monterrery, Mexico nearly five decades ago.

The Grammy-winner's repertoire encompasses 134 stage roles -- a number unmatched by any other celebrated tenor in history.

Domingo was to be honored Saturday by the WNO's signature event, the Opera Ball, a lavish fundraiser being held in the chancery of the Chinese embassy in Washington.

On Tuesday, the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, presented Domingo with its "Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award" for his music and humanitarian accomplishments.

US Vice President Joe Biden attended the event Tuesday and could not resist the opportunity to link Domingo to the big news the day before when US commandos killed Osama bin Laden.

"Placido Domingo is probably the only man who could appropriately sing their praises," Biden said of the commandos.

Domingo remains director of the Los Angeles Opera through 2013.

© 2011 AFP

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