Placido: A Life On Stage

At 57, Placido Domingo has been thrilling audiences for 35 years. Now, he has announced that he will take on yet another role, as artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera in the year 2000. Domingo talked with CBS Sunday Morning's Eugenia Zukerman about his life as a singer, conductor, and artistic director.

Domingo is a restaurant on the east side of Manhattan. And if you have any doubt about who owns the place just listen to the unmistakable voice in the background. It's Placido Domingo.

He says with a laugh that it makes him crazy: "I have to listen to my own music, which is a punishment, believe me. When you have to listen to your own music, you remember all these phrases could be better...But okay, if the public likes it, I have to do it."

Placido Domingo has been familiar with the demands of the public for a long time. Born in Madrid, he became familiar with theater life at an early age. Both of his parents sang in Spanish light operas called zarzuelas, and Domingo spent night after night listening to them.

"When I was born I was very lucky," he says, and adds, "My parents, they gave me two lives. They gave me my birth, the normal human life, and they gave me the music world. I don't think I can live without music. I mean that's absolutely what I love the most."

Today he's 57, a doting grandfather, with a tenor voice that's been thrilling the public for more than 35 years. It's an accomplishment that surprises even Placido Domingo, who estimates he has given 2,827 opera performances.

He honed his craft at the Hebrew National Opera and then, 30 years ago, made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The rest, as they say, is history.

If the Metropolitan Opera is the place where singers must prove themselves, Placido Domingo has proved himself.

He has a repertoire that includes more than l00 roles. He says: "I was very lucky that I was able to do all this repertoire with all this unbelievable character. That's what I have loved...I am more happy when I can really do a variety of roles."

He has a variety of roles in his life as well. Three years ago he became artistic director of the Washington Opera. A typical day can go from planning a trip to Japan to finding just the right pen with which to autograph opera scores. Then, as most people are heading home, Placido Domingo heads for the Kennedy Center Opera House.

"For me it's a great family, an opera house," he says. "And I feel like everybody is a friend and like everybody is doing such an important job -- the musicians in the orchestra, the stage hands, the electricians."

As much as he enjoys being backstage, he still enjoys being on stage. The excitement, in his words, comes from being able to "thrill the people singing (in a) kind of normal way, easy way, and then to really crown that aria singing with the high note."

Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves is hersel an opera star but she is still impressed by Placido Domingo. "He's a god in our world, in the opera world," Graves says. "You know, sometimes I forget when I'm on stage with him I think, 'Oh my God, it's Placido Domingo and I'm singing with him,' and I think 'hot diggidy dog' and you forget about it because he just feels like such a normal regular guy."
This season she's been impressed by Placido Domingo the conductor of the opera Samson and Delilah.

For Domingo, "I find being a singer has been a great help when I conduct because I can really feel the singing of the instruments."

He's even been able to conduct and sing on the same day. "It's wonderful," he says. "You just stay in the theater. Just have a good shower. Just have something to eat."

Is he ever worried he might get mixed up and start to sing from the pit? "No way. No way," he says. "Both things are so different that I never even have the idea that I've said, 'I wish I was singing in this moment that I am conducting' or vice versa."

Opening night at the Los Angeles Opera attracted a star-studded audience for a star-studded cast of Jennifer Larmore and Placido Domingo. His wife of 37 years, Marta, was on hand as were his three sons. His grandsons, Dominic and Christian were there too, as performers.

Two months ago, it was announced that Placido Domingo will also become artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera in the year 2000. But the tireless Domingo won't be cutting back on his singing schedule. He says that, at age 57, he fortunately is not only able to sing but he enjoys it more every day.

Whether Domingo's conducting or singing, when the curtain comes down on a performance you can be sure that there's another role waiting in the wings for him.

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