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A New Domingo at Music Center Opera : Former singer Marta Domingo makes her U.S. debut as stage director with a ‘classic’ take on ‘Rigoletto.’ Husband Placido conducts.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We’re used to associating the name Domingo with productions from the Los Angeles Music Center Opera. Placido Domingo is the company’s artistic consultant, after all, and has been a major presence each season, in starring tenor roles and lately in the pit.

But the credits for the “Rigoletto” opening tonight at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion carry a double Domingo. Placido is conducting (the first three performances), and his wife, Marta, has staged the production.

Senora Domingo came to this “Rigoletto” relatively late. Originally this was to be a brand-new production, with film director Peter Medak staging and designs by Richard Macdonald. But last November Medak withdrew, citing delays in his new movie, “Romeo Is Bleeding.”

With the director out, the company scrubbed the new production, borrowing one designed by Zack Brown in 1983 for the Washington Opera. Enter the new director.

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“I accepted this because ‘Rigoletto’ was probably the second opera I learned,” Marta Domingo says. “I’ve known it since I was 12 years old. That’s why I accepted, because I knew it backwards and forwards.”

In those formative years, though, she wasn’t thinking about directing.

“I’ve always loved the stage--I love movies and the theater,” she says, “but my idea always was to sing.”

Sing she did, first in Mexico City, where she met and married her husband, and then with him for 2 1/2 years in Israel. But when his career took off and they had two children, she found herself on the mommy track.

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After a generational hiatus, she has returned to opera personally as a stage director, with her first outing “Samson et Dalila” in Puerto Rico in 1991, followed by “Tosca” at the new Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville last year. Placido Domingo sang in both of those productions, and she readily concedes the connection between his star power and her new opportunities.

“Yes, it’s because of him,” Domingo acknowledges. “But honestly, if the ‘Tosca’ and the ‘Samson’ hadn’t been well done, well, first of all, I wouldn’t have continued. Placido never put pressure on anyone; never.”

The decades offstage were not out of opera for Domingo, who says she learned much of her new craft from studying the new productions in which her husband was involved.

“For 30 years I have had the privilege to see the best theaters, the best directors, the best singers and conductors,” she says. “I learned so much from them. Every time there was a new production, there was a round table and I took part.”

Domingo says that it’s always better working with her husband, whether he is onstage or in the pit. Years of discussing his roles with him have made directing him onstage a natural thing.

“But that’s what we’ve been doing already for 30 years,” she exclaims, astonished at the idea that personal relationships might compromise professional ones. “We respect what stage directors want, of course, but we’ve always discussed after rehearsals how he might do other things.”

The director doesn’t find the hand-me-down production here inhibiting. She says that for the company’s first “Rigoletto,” something traditional--though she prefers the adjective classic --is better than an avant-garde approach, although she says she has seen the opera effectively updated to a Mafiosi setting.

“First of all, thank God, we have the book,” she says, “which is so sensational, so powerful, so graphic.

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“I start with the image of the father, which is one of the great characters of Verdi. There was something in Verdi of the unfulfilled father, which you can also see in Simon Boccanegra, the elder Germont and the father in ‘Luisa Miller.’ ”

Not surprisingly, Domingo has complete sympathy for the challenges confronting her singing actors, particularly in this notorious challenge.

“This is very hard music to sing,” she says. “So even if you have many ideas and much fantasy, when it comes to staging you must realize that the singing comes first.

“I’m blessed with a terzetto of great singers (Justino Diaz in the title role, Richard Leech as the Duke, and Ann Panagulias as Gilda). They’re willing to do anything.”

After this Domingo has a “Barbiere di Siviglia” back in Puerto Rico. She says she will be staging Giordano’s “Fedora,” with Placido singing, for Lyric Opera of Chicago in April, 1994, although the company has not yet announced the production.

In all of her productions so far, the physical properties at least have been predetermined. That leaves her really pointing toward a “La Rondine” she will stage for Bonn in 1995, her first production created from the ground up and her first without her husband. Oscar-winning film costumer Milena Canonero will design the costumes, with sets from Michael Scott.


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