Domingo: one down, one to go?
The most musically active general director in American opera has just renewed his commitment to one of his two opera companies. For tenor/baritone/conductor Plácido Domingo, the head of both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, the 2010-11 season marked the end of his contracts with both those companies -- until today. This afternoon, the Los Angeles Opera announced that Domingo's contract has been extended through 2013.
The announcement comes at the start of the company's 25th season, which opens on Thursday with the world premiere of Daniel Catán's operatic version of "Il Postino." Domingo will sing one of the two tenor leads, the role of the poet Pablo Neruda. On other nights, in something of a stylistic departure, he will conduct Mozart's "Le nozze di Figaro." He comes fresh off of a new baritone role; after essaying Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" at opera houses around the world last season, he took on the title role of "Rigoletto" in a live broadcast from Mantua, Italy (where the opera is set) at the beginning of September.
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Domingo's multi-tasking is impressive; even more so is the fact that he is still singing very respectably at the age of 69. It remains open to question whether he is truly able to fulfill the administrative functions of the head of an opera company, let alone two companies, on top of everything else he does, in a financial climate that calls for particularly strong guidance. Los Angeles managed to get a "Ring" cycle on stage earlier this year, in an important if controversial production by Achim Freyer, but at the cost of a $14 million emergency bailout from the county that the company will probably be dealing with for seasons to come. On the other hand, there's a consensus that the company's profile has been raised considerably during his tenure, and Domingo has at least been able there to follow through on his stated goal of presenting new works of American opera (though "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "The Fly" were both resounding flops).
The picture is murkier at WNO, which canceled its own planned "Ring," has reduced its season this year to a mere five operas, has temporarily shelved its commitment to American works, and -- despite protests of some Domingo supporters that he has brought in a new international flavor -- has not clearly attained a higher standing than it enjoyed under Martin Feinstein. The company is currently in talks with the Kennedy Center about a possible merger, perhaps the only solution to its ongoing financial woes. These talks, which will be concluded in the course of this season, likely take precedence over the question of Domingo's future in Washington; indeed, the outcome may have a direct bearing on whether either he or WNO will want to extend his contract.