The Domingo Factor


Call it the Placido Plan. Announcing a bold and ambitious design to bring Los Angeles Opera the kind of artistic identity it has lacked in recent years, the company’s new leader, Placido Domingo, has unveiled his strategy for its next three seasons and beyond.

At a press conference Monday, and in a separate conversation with The Times, Domingo put forth an agenda whose key points include: presenting a world premiere each season starting in 2002; the company’s first ever “Ring” cycle, to be staged at the Shrine Auditorium and designed by Industrial Light & Magic, the George Lucas-founded special-effects firm; and co-productions with major international opera houses. He also discussed his new emphasis on conducting, calling the company’s recently named principal conductor Kent Nagano “almost . . . a music director” and announcing an ongoing relationship with acclaimed Kirov Orchestra director Valery Gergiev, who is currently conducting Domingo and the Kirov in concert performances of Wagner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

On the money side, the celebrity tenor made public significant new contributions to Los Angeles Opera, including a $2-million gift from billionaire opera donor Alberto Vilar to underwrite productions for next season.


In addition, Domingo promises to make good on his previously expressed intentions to tap the Hollywood talent pool and reach out to the Latino community, as well as to expand the company’s training program for young artists.

“We can see a bright future with all these wonderful things that we want to do,” said Domingo, who officially took charge in July. “This will really put us on the map.”

In contrast with Los Angeles Opera’s founding general director Peter Hemmings, who in recent years relied heavily on revivals of a handful of operas in the standard repertory, Domingo emphasized that he would program primarily works that had not been seen here before.

“The philosophy of Los Angeles Opera should be to create a diversity of repertoire and also of scenic representations,” said Domingo. “The really important things to me are co-productions with leading companies of the world, world premieres of contemporary music and finding stage directors and designers with extraordinary vision.

“Starting in the 2002-03 season, we’ll try to do a world premiere every year, with the most exciting American and European composers,” he said. “A world premiere is always a big risk, but I think we will take the risk.”

In fact, three new operas have been commissioned. The first, from famed Italian modernist Luciano Berio, will star Domingo in the story of his own life and is planned for 2002-03. For 2003-04, former New York City Opera composer-in-residence Deborah Drattell will create a new work based on Russia’s last czar and czarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. And Hollywood stalwart John Williams has been tapped for an opera on a subject still to be announced, to be premiered in 2004-05. Domingo also confirmed that Los Angeles Opera plans in the future to present a new work by Esa-Pekka Salonen. In its 14-year history, L.A. Opera has presented only two world premieres.


Two other projects with Berio were announced. The composer will create a new ending for “Turandot,” left unfinished at Puccini’s death in 1924, in a North American premiere next season. And for the 2002-03 season, in addition to the original opera, Los Angeles Opera has commissioned from Berio his own orchestration of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea.”

Los Angeles Opera’s “Ring” cycle will begin in spring 2003, with “The Rhine Gold”; the final three installments, “The Valkyrie,” “Siegfried” and “Twilight of the Gods” will follow in the 2003-04 season. Calling it a “ ‘Ring’ cycle for the new millennium,” Domingo revealed that the Wagner epic will be staged by German director Peter Mussbach working with Industrial Light & Magic. The planned “Ring” represents the first time the entire cycle has been staged in L.A.

“We have to create something new with this ‘Ring’ because everything has been seen,” said Domingo. “I went to Industrial Light & Magic to make something that will be unique; in the land of Hollywood, it has to be. I can assure you that if Wagner was alive today, he would find exactly what he wanted [in today’s technological capabilities].”

At the press conference, Domingo introduced principal conductor Nagano. The internationally renowned Nagano, who will officially assume his duties starting in the 2001-02 season, has already been heavily involved in creating Los Angeles Opera’s future, according to Domingo. Along with working on the company’s major commissions, Nagano promised to help bring “the next generation” of composers to L.A. Opera through commissioning works to be presented in venues smaller than the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“I admire Domingo’s courage to reach out and try something new,” said Nagano. “It’s inspiring.”

“I was very lucky to get a yes from Kent Nagano, an extraordinary conductor, and he will be with us every season, doing either two or three operas, [functioning as] almost the equivalent of a music director,” Domingo told The Times. “I also have a promise from Gergiev to come and do one big Russian opera every year.”


The first of the Gergiev outings will be Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades,” featuring Domingo and co-produced with Madrid’s Teatro Real and Washington Opera (where Domingo is also artistic director), to open the 2001-02 season. It represents L.A. Opera’s first presentation of a Russian-language opera.

Other companies that will co-produce with Los Angeles Opera include, primarily, Gergiev’s Kirov Opera, along with La Scala and Paris’ Thea^tre du Cha^telet. Among shared productions scheduled so far are Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffman” and Mussorgsky’s “Boris Gudonov” set for 2002-03 in Los Angeles; and Prokofiev’s “The Love for Three Oranges,” with Ian Judge directing and Gergiev conducting, and Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” also conducted by Gergiev, slated for 2003-04.

In financial matters, Domingo announced a new pledge from recently installed L.A. Opera board member Alberto Vilar, the founder and president of high-tech oriented Amerindo Investment Advisors, who is widely thought to be the leading donor to opera companies today.

Vilar’s first gift to Los Angeles Opera was $400,000, to underwrite the current production of “Aida,” and he has now pledged an additional $2 million for the 2001-02 season alone, earmarked for a new staging of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and other productions.

Vilar will also back Domingo’s intention to beef up the company’s resident artists program, with increased coaching and training for the participants.

Vilar is expected to announce further financial commitments, some of which may involve Los Angeles Opera, at a press conference today.


“I can say only for the moment the first season,” said Domingo, “I want to leave it for him to talk about the rest.”

Additionally, Domingo announced the formation of Domingo’s Angels, a new program for contributors who will give $1 million over the course of four years. Founded by L.A. Opera board Chairman Leonard Green and board member Marc I. Stern, the fledgling campaign has already lined up 10 donors.

For the Spanish-language audiences of L.A., Domingo will include both English and Spanish performances of some works (Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” is planned for 2001-02), as well as the future addition to the repertory of the Spanish operetta form known as zarzuela. Domingo’s parents were zarzuela singers and he has proved a tireless promoter of the genre. “I see doing one every two seasons,” he said, “and I would like to create a company for zarzuela that would be separate and permanent. One of my big dreams is to provide something cultural that will make the Spanish-speaking people feel at home.”

The 2001-2002 Season

The first season to be programmed entirely by Domingo begins in September 2001 and runs through June 2002. It will feature eight full productions and one opera in concert. Significantly, only two of the nine operas are revivals of works previously staged at Los Angeles Opera.

Running in repertory with “The Queen of Spades” will be the Vilar-funded new production of “Lohengrin,” to be conducted by Nagano and staged by veteran actor Maximilian Schell.

Nagano will also conduct the new Berio-completed “Turandot,” and lead Berlin’s Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, where he is just beginning his tenure as music director, in a single-concert L.A. premiere of Schoenberg’s “Moses and Aron.” The concert will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the composer, who spent the final years of his life in Los Angeles.


Domingo will sing in a Zurich Opera staging of “The Merry Widow,” conducted by Opera Pacific artistic director John DeMain in December in English and in January in Spanish. Achim Freyer’s 1996 staging and design of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, conducted by Peter Schreier, will be presented. And film director William Friedkin will stage a double bill of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Bartok’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.”

The season will also include revivals of Los Angeles Opera’s production of “La Traviata,” conducted by Domingo and directed by Marta Domingo, and Peter Hall’s staging of “The Magic Flute,” with designs by Gerald Scarfe.