Placido Domingo: No slowing down for the maestro
(CBS News) When he's not saving his voice for his next performance, Placido Domingo is happy to talk, and he sat down with our Tracy Smith for some Questions and Answers:
There are singers, there are opera singers, and then there is Placido Domingo.
Even to non-opera fans, he is a force of nature. Let the pop stars have their microphones: HE doesn't need those gadgets.
On stage, Domingo is invincible. But real life is trickier for a man whose life - and legacy - is his voice.
How does he protect it? "You have to avoid drafts," he said. "The worst thing is to fly in a plane. And you find that your neighbor has a cold, you know?"
"What do you do?" asked Smith.
"You move. I change place. You know, I just cannot be in a long trip, you know, five, six hours or 10 or 12, you know, with somebody that has a cold. I really have to change. I have to move seats, you know? I mean, no hard feelings, but it's my own responsibility."
Opera - at this level, anyway - is as much physical as musical, and like any star athlete, Domingo has his own pre-game routine.
"The voice shines more if the day before a performance you are quiet," he said. "I try to speak as little as possible. It's not that I am completely quiet, you know? But that's something that I respect, I have respected all my life. And I respect that."
"Clearly, it worked," said Smith.
"It's really the difference. Maybe I know how to sing, but I don't know how to speak. It makes me tired."
If speaking makes him tired, nothing else seems to. Placido Domingo has been on a kind of non-stop tour for most of the past five decades. He's played just about every opera house from Turin to Tokyo - 3,600 performances. Singing, conducting, reveling in the hard labor that great music requires.
"You know, when I conduct, I really sweat so much, you know? Because it's big physical. And I always change. I have to change in the intermission. I have to change all my clothes completely [because they're sweated through]."
You might say the passion for performance is in his blood. Domingo was born in Spain to a family of professional singers who settled in Mexico. His father owned a small theatrical music company; his mother was a featured player.
Young Placido trained for a career as a pianist, until the day his mother heard him sing.
"One day, I was sitting at the piano. And I sang. I was singing a Mexican song. And I hit a certain phrase. And I see my mother crying. I said, 'What's the matter?' And she said, 'That was a beautiful song, beautiful note.' And so then I kind of understood that I can really sing."
Could he ever.
This year marks Placido Domingo's 45th at the Met, but there's more to him than opera: he's just come out with a new pop album featuring duets, including one with his son, Placido Jr.
But for all of his success on his own, he's probably best known to some as part of a heavyweight trio, with Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti - The Three Tenors.
They were only supposed to perform together once, during the World Cup Soccer final in 1990. But the act caught fire: they did more concerts, and sold millions of records.
"Did you have any idea, starting off, when the three of you got together, how huge it would be?" Smith asked.
"No, no, no, no, never, never, never," he replied.
The producers made a fortune on that first concert. The tenors? Not so much.
"We didn't have any royalties," Domingo said. "No royalties. But never mind," he laughed. "They sold over 10 million records. But that was the story. We don't sign for anything, so they don't give us anything, you know?"
"'Never mind'?" asked Smith.
"It give us a lot more, you know? Because we did many other concerts, you know? And of course there's times we got money," he said. "And also, we love so much the football - the soccer, as you call it here."
"So the love of soccer kind of compensated for the lack of royalties?" Smith asked.
"Absolutely. We were very happy."
The death of Luciano Pavarotti in 2007 hit especially hard.
"We were kind of friendly rivals," Domingo said.
"Friendly rivals. Frienemies? Do you know that term?"
"'Frienemies?'" That I don't hear," he laughed. "I say it. Because more than anything, you know, the rivalry was created by the press and by the agents. Because, I mean, we got along very well, you know? It was sad, because you lose a person that you have admired and loved. And also, you see the reality of life, where we are going on, you know? It's the duty of life, yes? You are born. You live. And you die, you know?"
It wasn't the first time he's grappled with the fragility of life. In 1985 an earthquake hit Mexico City, burying some of his family members alive in the ruins of their home. Domingo cancelled his dates, and rushed to the scene.
His parents were fine. Four other relatives, including a young child, died. "So we find them after six days or something like that. We find them. And so that a horrible, horrible thing."
These days, Placido Domingo's favorite audience is his three grown children, and grandchildren. And he still stays hip.
"I have to do some things for them, right?" he said. Like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," where he provided the voice of Monte. He was also the voice of the evil wizard in a recent "Dora the Explorer" episode, much to the delight of the grandkids.
This time of year. Domingo's only command performance is with his family.
"As much as I work the whole year, those holidays, we should be together," he told Smith.
But after the holidays, he'll hit the road, with at least 80 performances already booked next year.
The maestro, who turns 72 in a few weeks, is at peace with the idea of retirement, but determined as ever to keep going.
"I feel strong still. But you know, I mean, you never know how much more time you will have the voice. That's the first thing. But secondly, how the health will be and how is the strength."
"Do you wonder when the day will come that it will start to fade?" asked Smith.
"I'm not scared. I have done such a long career. I will just go down on my knees and just thank, you know, thank God for giving me so much time, you know?"
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