Plácido Domingo has been battling illness, but the 73-year-old general director of L.A. Opera confirmed that he is, indeed, healthy enough to take the stage for the company's season opener on Sept. 13. He made that point Tuesday by energetically kicking off his annual Operalia competition, held in Los Angeles for the first time in 10 years.
The competition, which the opera star founded in 1993, is set to run through Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with 40 young singers from around the world vying for the top prizes as high as $30,000.
Domingo described the annual event as the "Olympics of the opera" at a news conference Tuesday at the Dorothy Chandler. He also emphasized the competition's practical value as an informal way for talented young singers to land jobs.
Operalia "helps to provide employment," the tenor said, adding that many members of the 14-person jury are the heads of opera companies.
The 40 competitors were chosen from about 1,000 applications. The group will be whittled down over the next few days to 10 finalists, who will compete in a climactic round Saturday in front of a paying audience.
Domingo won't serve as a voting judge because "it wouldn't be fair," he said. But the tenor's wife, Marta, is part of the jury, and Domingo said he sometimes steps into the evaluation process when scores are close.
Judges use a ranking system of points that are pooled following rounds of competition, according to Christopher Koelsch, the president and chief executive of L.A. Opera and one of this year's judges. Members of the jury also qualitatively discuss their opinions of the singers.
Operalia is something of a family business for Domingo, whose son Alvaro serves as an executive for the competition.
"Every year there seem to be more competitors," Alvaro Domingo said in an interview. This year, the competition skews more toward American singers, with 12 of the 40 competitors coming from the U.S.
Two competitors have strong ties to Southern California. Soprano Julie Adams hails from Burbank, and tenor Joshua Guerrero is a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at L.A. Opera.
Tickets can be bought for the final round on Saturday evening, but this gala finals concert also will be streamed online by http://www.medici.tv.
After the Operalia conference, Domingo said he was feeling "fine" physically. His recent respiratory tract infection, he said, was related to the pulmonary embolism that required him to be hospitalized last year.
Earlier this month, the singer cut short his appearances in a production of "Il Trovatore" at the Salzburg Festival in Austria and flew to New York to recuperate.
He also recently suffered from gallbladder stones, which he had initially disclosed as a bladder infection. "It was something that was lost in translation," he said.
In 2010, Domingo underwent surgery to remove a cancerous polyp in his colon. At his age, the singer said Tuesday, he's "singing a lot more than I thought I would."
L.A. Opera's new season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 13 with a production of "La Traviata" starring Domingo and soprano Nino Machaidze.