Placido Domingo's multi-tasking comes under increased scrutiny

The music world's most celebrated workaholic, Placido Domingo, is coming under increased scrutiny -- and increased fire -- for what is perceived as a stretched-way-too-thin schedule.

It's not so much his habit of singing in one opera and conducting another on alternate days that has people more concerned; he's been doing that sort of thing for years. It's the fact that the two companies, Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera, where he is general director are experiencing tough going financially.

Those who have questioned Domingo's bi-coastal managerial career all along are no doubt wallowing in I-told-you-so smugness; those who have fervently believed in the superstar tenor's ability to do all things at all times for all customers may be feeling a bit less secure.

In a Thursday New York Times story by Dan Wakin, Domingo sounds

just a tad defensive ("If they are worried because I am too spread, let them tell me, and I will leave"), and representatives of the two opera companies sound basically supportive (WNO board chair: "It is unfair to blame any individual for the financial problems existing in an opera company in the United States"). Given that Domingo's contracts in D.C. and L.A. expire in 2011, it will be interesting to see if he extends either.

Things might be very different had the tenor's voice gone into severe decline, but, for a guy who turns 69 next Thursday, he has an awful lot of vocal capital left. No wonder he's still at it (occasionally switching gears for the baritone title role in "Simon Boccanegra" these days -- he sings it at at the Met this winter, in between conducting "Stiffelio" there).

But opera companies are obviously huge monsters requiring constant care and feeding. This may be the worst time for any company to find its leader gallivanting about the globe to perform, teleconferencing or texting in his spare minutes as he goes. It's not unheard of for opera stars to go into management, but not while still singing, conducting and managing a second company. The novelty of it all, and the enormous personal appeal of Domingo, has made this an amazing story right from the start. It gets more interesting every day, especially with the financial squeezes affecting Domingo's two administrative domains.  

My colleague Anne Midgette at the Post weighed in on the matter Wednesday with a strong point of view. Don't miss the equally strong comments made by readers -- they sure do reflect what a passionate thing opera is. (When I questioned Domingo's effectiveness in my blog post in early December, there seemed to be a little more support for him expressed in the comments I received than in most of those I noticed on Anne's article. Not sure if that means anything, but I just thought I'd mention it.)

Personally, I have a hard time buying into the notion that Domingo is a total disaster as a general director for either company. At the same time, I sure can't see him as faultless. As usual, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, a place where a fitting solution to the problems in both organizations may also be found.

UPDATE: Per the comment below, you may want to check out a fresh story on the L.A. side of the Domingo equation.


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