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Domingo: no contract renewal at WNO

Plácido Domingo, the tenor, baritone, conductor, and opera administrator extraordinaire, said Monday that he will not renew his contract as general director of the Washington National Opera when it expires in June, 2011.

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. (Mark Allan / AP)

His departure is not entirely a surprise -- Domingo has long been thought to be chronically overextended. But it also means that the company is left without a marquee leader, its most recognizable brand, at a time when nearly every detail of the WNO's future is open to question -- most importantly, whether it will remain autonomous or merge with the Kennedy Center.

Domingo, 69, who has been associated with the opera for 14 years, announced his decision via conference call to the WNO board at a meeting Monday morning, speaking from Los Angeles, where he is also general director of the Los Angeles Opera. He is currently singing there in the starring role in the new opera "Il Postino" and conducting "Marriage of Figaro." Last week, he extended his Los Angeles contract, which also expired at the end of the season, for two more years.

"Over the years, I have had the great satisfaction to witness the rapid transformation of Washington National Opera from an exciting opera company into an internationally celebrated one," Domingo wrote in a letter sent to members of the board after the meeting. "As I come to the end of my tenure at Washington National Opera, I think it is time for the company to go in new directions, including studying the possibility of a merger with the Kennedy Center. And you can rest assured that I will do everything I can to help during this, my last year as General Director."

Domingo became artistic director of WNO in 1996, and has served as general director since 2003. His tenure is commonly said to have lifted the Washington National Opera to a new level, bringing in more international stars and big-name productions (José Carreras in Wolf-Ferrari's "Sly," Mirella Freni singing opposite Domingo in "Fedora," a nationally televised "Pagliacci" starring Domingo and directed by Franco Zeffirelli, Renée Fleming in "Lucrezia Borgia"). And his commitment to American opera meant that WNO presented the second or third productions of a number of important works: Maw's "Sophie's Choice," Bolcom's "A View from the Bridge," Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Under Domingo, however, the company moved away from the quirky distinctiveness that had characterized it under his predecessor, Martin Feinstein. And all of the big names came at a cost. The company has never quite managed to get its financial house in order, and Domingo's frequent absences, as he maintained an active singing and conducting career, while also running the Los Angeles Opera, didn't help the causes either of fund-raising or of administrative stability.

This was not an acrimonious farewell. Domingo promised to honor all of his commitments to WNO, including returning next season to conduct, and said he hoped that WNO would invite him back to sing or to conduct.

"Marta and I are honored to have found so many friends in Washington," he said, referring to his wife, "and we both hope this friendship will last forever."

By Anne Midgette  | September 27, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Anne Midgette  
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Check the photo please!

Posted by: blithe | September 27, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

never mind!

Posted by: blithe | September 27, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Huh??? When did Gilbert sign on with the WNO??

Posted by: silentnomore | September 27, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

On the front page of the web edition, there's a picture of a basketball player where Domingo should be.

Posted by: TimPage1 | September 27, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

He should have signaled his intentions to leave 4 or 5 years ago. Initially he brought excitement and visibility to the Washington Opera, but for the past few seasons he's been an absentee director. We deserve a director who's committed to the company and Washington's operal lovers and who understands that a big part of directing any arts organization in this day and age is fund raising.

Posted by: laSerenissima2003 | September 27, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

1. Did Washingtonians really expect Mr. Domingo to be on hand 24/7 when he took on the role of Artistic & then, General Director? Either way, his presence raised the WNO's profile enormously and hence, attracted donors well beyond the scope of his predecessors.
2. Apart from the claims made by the Washington Post, is there any actual proof that Mr. Domingo suddenly became AWOL during the past few seasons?
3. The WP was quick to attribute the WNO's financial woes (not to mention the entire recession) on Mr. Domingo's supposed shortcomings as a General Director. Its initial reports on the possibility of a merger w/ the Kennedy Center were based on unsubstantiated rumors. Having done its sporting best to make it uncomfortable for Mr. Domingo to stay, the WP is now complaining that his departure leaves the company leaderless at a critical time. Go figure!

Posted by: grumpyoldlady | September 28, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

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