At the first Palm Springs Life Festival, Plácido Domingo, general director of the LA Opera, will be conducting Renée Fleming for the first time in the desert. Palm Springs Life caught up with the great Spanish tenor in New York last month.
Q: You’ve been performing since you were 16, more than 3,600 times. You and Renée Fleming first performed together in Verdi’s Otello in 1995 at the Metropolitan Opera. What was it like to share the stage with her for the first time?
A: My first impression of Renée and my greatest memory of that production were the same thing: I thought that she was a marvelous artist — a beautiful voice, and an intense and convincing stage presence. We have worked together many times, and it is always a pleasure to collaborate with someone who takes her work so seriously.
Q: Lots of performers — musicians, actors, athletes — have rituals or superstitions they follow before taking the stage. Do you?
A: I always look for a bent nail on stage before a performance because it’s supposed to bring good luck. But, fortunately, that doesn’t mean that if I don’t find one I will necessarily have bad luck.
Q: Your roles have been as varied as a Disney character in Beverly Hills Chihuahua to Tristan in Tristan and Isolde. How do you prepare for a role?
A: The preparations depend on the role. I can study the music at the piano, but learning the text depends on the language. If it is in a language that I speak — Spanish, Italian, French, or English — memorizing the words is not particularly difficult. I am accustomed to singing in German, but I don’t really speak the language, so it is more difficult. Libretti in Russian and other languages I have to learn by rote, with translations so that I understand what I’m singing — which is essential.
Q: We’ve heard that you know 200 roles by memory. Which character do you most identify with?
A: Two-hundred is an exaggeration — I’m only approaching 150 roles now, and some of them that I sang only a few times many years ago I no longer know by memory. Anyway, we always have to refresh and restudy roles, no matter how well we already know them. Most of the characters I portray either get killed or kill others, and sometimes both, so I don’t really identify with them, although I try to get inside their minds when I work on my roles. I always say that I like to be happy in life and unhappy with the tragedies of many of my characters.
Q: You have a time machine. You can assemble any cast of performers from any era. Who would you choose to conduct, be with you on stage, or play in the orchestra?
A: I can’t really speak about historical artists, but I know that I would love to work again with some of the people I worked with in the past who are no longer with us: Carlos Kleiber, Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland … the list is very long!
Q: You’re known for your support of young people involved in music. Are you optimistic about the next generations advancing your art?
A: I created and oversee the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, which helps to prepare singers and pianists for professional careers and supports the future of opera. I am also committed to inspiring opera fans to share their love of the art with their children and grandchildren, and this has influenced our LA Opera Domingo-Family program, where kids 9 to 17 years old always get a 50 percent discount to the opera. Last September I made a guest appearance at Teacherpalooza, which is part of LA Opera’s award-winning Professional Development program that provides educators with a way to connect their curriculum with operas.
Q: Next month, you’ll be conducting the LA Opera Orchestra and soprano Renée Fleming. What inspired your music program?
A: As we both have an extensive repertoire, it was difficult to choose the music program, but we tried to select pieces that are popular to the public and we can have a magical evening for the people to remember.
Q: What’s the most challenging opera you perform?
A: The one I am performing.
Palm Springs Life Festival, March 20 through April 24, 2016. Tickets: www.palmspringslifefestival.com
Plácido Domingo with Renée Fleming
8:30-10 p.m. March 20
The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa
32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage.