Placido Domingo Calls Otello His All-Time Favorite Verdi Role

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 - 11:00 AM

When Placido Domingo sang his first Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in 1979, there was much anticipation and even worry. Was the title role of Verdi's Shakespearean opera too heavy for the 38-year-old tenor? Would he strain to carry it off? Would it damage his voice?

Domingo's performance for the Met's opening night turned out to be a rousing success, and in his review, New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg called him "one of the great Otellos of our day," adding, "[Domingo] approached the role with a kind of furious intensity, and with a darker vocal quality than uses elsewhere in his repertory."

In retrospect, concern about long-term vocal damage appears unfounded: Now 72, Domingo remains a paragon of longevity in the opera field, and continues to sing on major stages while juggling roles as a conductor and an administrator. In the coming months he is scheduled to sing in Berlin, Vienna, Valencia, Spain and the Metropolitan Opera, among other houses. In time for the Verdi bicentennial, he has just released a recording of Verdi baritone arias for Sony.

In an interview with WQXR's Jeff Spurgeon, Domingo called Otello his favorite Verdi role of all time. "The epic of my career in Verdi has to be the monologue of Otello in the third act,” he said, referring to the tenor soliloquy, "Dio! mi potevi scagliar." “It is just unbelievable that the evil driving of Iago destroys this hero in minutes."

"I was able to detach myself, like in no other Verdi opera, from the fact that I was singing,” he said of his interpretive approach. "I was there, doing a character. I didn’t care about the difficult passages and I forgot about everything."

But Otello was more than a compelling character. It planted the seeds for a long-term transition from tenor to baritone roles, with their darker color pallet. "When I was singing Otellos I needed really dark colors; you cannot sing Otello with a light voice."

Domingo channeled those darker hues when, in 2009, he began taking on baritone parts starting with the title character of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. He sang it first at the invitation of conductor Daniel Barenboim for the Berlin State Opera and then La Scala. "Then, every theater was interested,” Domingo said. Among the other offers was a live telecast of Rigoletto from Mantua, Italy.

The singer says he has performed 24 different Verdi roles, 19 as a tenor, five as a baritone and another 12 as a conductor. Citing his website slogan, "when I rest, I rust," Domingo says he has no immediate plans to retire, even despite some recent health setbacks. "I feel comfortable in the baritone register," he said. "Every day, more and more, with the coloring in the voice, I feel more comfortable."

Listen to the full interview above and tune in for a one-hour special with Domingo on Tuesday night at 8 pm on WQXR.

Below: Watch a 2002 performance of Domingo as Otello - and tell us about your favorite Domingo moment in the comments box below.

Produced by:

Jeff Spurgeon


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Comments [11]

Frantz from Chicago, IL

My favorite Placido Domingo moment(s) were his: 1986 movie version of Verdi's "Otello", directed by Franco Zeffirelli. I think it is STILL the best to this day. I am working on a feature film version with a Nero Vero in the title role, called "Ideale";

My other favorite Maestro Domingo moment is: His Don Jose in the Francesco Rosi film version of Georges Bizet's "Carmen"...that was my first introduction to the "Il Stupendo" mystique of Placido Domingo.

Jun. 26 2014 09:22 PM
kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

PLACIDO DOMINGO is surely on the mark. His most memorable performances to me were his OTELLOs, although his wide range of music formats even beyond opera and zarzuelas have had an indelible positive input ninto most classical enthusiasts experiences.
My critique regarding today's, Saturday December 7th, 2013 radio broadcast live from the MET OPERA is:
KUDOS to the Rigoletto DMITRI HVOROVSTOVSKY who is a quadruple threat, with a great voice, stunningly virile physique, good musicianship and believable depth in his dramatic concept and execution of his role and to the Sparafucile STEFAN KOCAN whose remarkable protracted low F in his business-like confrontation exhorting his "services" to Rigoletto in Act 1 received a deserved acclamation. The Duke MATTHEW POLENZANI has an appropriately light lyric tenor voice with the acuti, high notes, secure and pleasant sounding. But in this role his singing is not of the exciting caliber of the greats singing the Duke, Caruso, Bjoerling, Del Monaco, Corelli and Pavvarotti. The maestro PABLO HERAS-CASADO most effectively communicated Verdi's score, unlike the what we have seen of the bastardization of the setting and dress as expressed by PIAVE. What if we went to Paris' LOUVRE ART MUSEUM and saw a substitution for the LEONARDO DA VINCI MONA LISA an updated modern version!!! I in my earliest years sang the Duke but I am now a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor. On St. Valentine's Day, Friday February 14, 2014, my TEN DVD SET of "The 300 Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, Movies and the Grammys" recorded in ten live concerts will be obtainable. My website is, where one may download, free, at RECORDED SELECTIONS 37 out of the nearly 100 selections that I have sung in 4 three-hour-long solo concerts in CARNEGIE HALL'S ISAAC STERN AUDITORIUM.

Dec. 07 2013 06:01 PM
C T Brown from Long Branch

Great interview. Otello is my favorite opera, AND in my opinion Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes collaborated to give us the best Met performance, ever!

Oct. 12 2013 11:17 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Another voice that went beautifully dark was Victoria DeLosAngeles' voice. She was able to sing Rosina in the original mezzo soprano range and it was truly beautiful. As for Domingo going black, I have the dvd where he is dark and do not think it racist. I believe the play has a line that says "Thou art the blacker devil". Do we need to see racism everywhere.

Oct. 10 2013 02:52 PM
Janet from Brooklyn

I really enjoyed the interview. To be sure, he doesn't sound baritonal, and his voice lacks some of the clarity and power it once had, but I am captivated by the expressiveness and nuance he brings to this new repertoire. For the first time, Di Provenza brings tears to my eyes, with his fatherly concern for a beloved son.

Oct. 09 2013 06:05 PM

So does no one want to talk about Placido's "blacking up" for the role? I wonder what he has to say about that now, looking back. I don't totally blame him, it was still in keeping with prevalent racist conventions. But it would certainly be interesting to ask him about it, what he thinks about that controversy, whether he would do it again that way, and how he would advise others to deal with it.

Oct. 09 2013 04:33 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I am wondering if Maestro Domingo is preparing the role of Iago. Ramon Vinay also went from Otello to Iago. Fine interview.

Oct. 09 2013 10:15 AM

This was a great interview. Thankyou very much from a listener in New Zealand

Oct. 08 2013 09:31 PM
Lan Xiao

Thank you so much for presenting the interview with Maestro Placido Domingo. I also just listened to the one-hour session of Domingo singing and talking about Verdi on WQXR. I was particularly moved by the fact that the producer chose to play Domingo singing the tenor aria "Quando le sere al placido" from Jan 27, 1979 Met Opera broadcast of Luisa Miller. It is not only a perfect rendition of the aria, but also a top choice, I think, to demonstrate Domingo's supreme artistry. Interestingly (and perhaps unsurprisingly), that particular rendition was also the first track on the 2-CD album Met released a few years ago to celebrate its 125th anniversary). Thank you again!

Oct. 08 2013 09:01 PM
Peter Feldman from New York City

I heard Di Provenza from La Traviata and it sounded strange. Obviously Placido Domingo is not any baritone. All those opera houses contracting his baritone roles do it only because his name attracts public but he does not have the weight of a real baritone voice. He may sing baritone roles but he does not sound like a real baritone.

Oct. 08 2013 08:30 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This evaluation makes complete sense.Domingo has progressed from a baritonal tenor to a tenorial baritone.Otello has long been viewed as a baritonal tenor role,and Domingo,who struggled with notes above A natural,found a home in that role's tessitura.His voice has dropped to the point where like Ramon Vinay and Regina Resnik before him,he is singing the repertoire of a lower voice range.He is the embodiment of a "Zwischenfach" at this point,neither completely tenor nor baritone.

Oct. 08 2013 05:10 PM

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