Plácido Domingo’s Dubai kick off: Meet the man who will raise the curtain at Dubai Opera
In Plácido Domingo, the Dubai Opera has found an ideal act to inaugurate its grand opening – an unmistakable voice commanding respect across the classical community, yet a banner name with the kind of star appeal normally reserved for the world of pop.
He is an established elder who has been feted in scores of operas, from Verdi to Wagner – but also sung to billions at six Fifa World Cups, helped sell Rolex watches and appeared in animated form on The Simpsons. Having reportedly performed more stage roles than any contemporary – 147 at last count – the 75-year-old dubbed the “King of Opera” can look back on an unrivalled six decades on the stage.
Born in Madrid in 1941 to two professional singers, Domingo’s family moved to Mexico when he was 8 to form a touring Spanish zarzuela (musical theatre) company, which ensured the young José – Plácido is his middle name – would be entrenched in music for life. At 18, he joined the Mexico National Opera as a tenor, supplementing his income by playing piano in bars, and acting in plays, from Lorca to Chekhov.
The year 1961 turned out to be monumental for Domingo, when he made his debut in a leading role (Alfredo in La Traviata) and met his second wife, soprano Marta Ornelas.
Domingo’s big break came following a successful 1965 audition for the New York City Opera, soon after performing at the inauguration of the company’s new home at Lincoln Centre. Three years later, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut – the first of more than 800 performances of 46 roles at the iconic New York venue.
While most renowned for his signature role of Verdi’s Otello, Domingo has tirelessly sought new and more challenging material. In the 1990s, he famously dropped much of the familiar Italian repertory to embrace Wagner, while recent years have seen a continued passion to both revive forgotten works and perform contemporary world premieres.
With his voice deepening with age Domingo made the controversial decision to start taking baritone roles in 2009.
Since first picking up a baton in 1973, he has also conducted more than 500 performances – a role he will reprise when he returns to the region in January to conduct the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra in Muscat.
Amid growing fame and notoriety in the United States, Domingo started to branch out into other musical genres – including pop and Latin – beginning with 1981’s Perhaps Love, a multi-platinum duet smash with country singer John Denver. This set a crossover template Domingo would return to throughout his career, fostering collaborations with names including Diana Ross, Michael Bolton, Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett.
However, Domingo’s greatest crossover success came singing with vocalists of his own kind – and range – in The Three Tenors, the blockbuster “opera supergroup” that forever changed classical music’s engagement with the wider public.
The onstage combination of Luciano Pavarotti, Domingo and José Carreras was only ever meant to be a one-off charity spectacle, hosted in Rome’s Baths of Caracalla on the eve of the 1990 Fifa World Cup final. However, when 10 million listeners bought the accompanying live album – still the best-selling classical release ever – the ensuring circus was inevitable. An estimated 1.3 billion viewers tuned in four years later for a repeat performance in Los Angeles at the 1994 World Cup, beginning a series of small, but lucrative, globetrotting world tours, calling in at subsequent World Cups in France in 1998 and Japan in 2002.
The trio’s final concert took place in 2003, but three years later, Domingo performed at the World Cup final in Berlin on his own. After sitting out 2010 as a spectator in Johannesburg (where Spain lifted the trophy) Domingo made his sixth World Cup appearance at Rio de Janeiro in 2014, alongside pianist Lang Lang and regular collaborator Ana María Martínez – the celebrated soprano who will join Domingo onstage in Dubai tonight.
• Plácido Domingo’s performance at the Dubai Opera on Wednesday, August 31 is sold out. Join the waitlist at www.dubaiopera.com. Read our exclusive interview with Domingo in Thursday’s Arts&Life section