"Buenos dias, Placido."
The voice went over the phone lines from the United States to Vina Del Var in Chile, some 9,000 miles away.
"It's afternoon!" said Placido Domingo, one of the world's great tenors and travelers. "We're two hours ahead of you. Perhaps geography was not your best subject."
Indeed, we hadn't seen a geography book since seventh grade -- and in those days, the little red schoolhouse was still the primary font of education. So imagine the surprise when we located Chile on a map and saw that it was practically due south of Bermuda.
However, geography was not the reason for Mr. Domingo's flight to Chile -- a trip that took 2 1/2 hours longer than expected.
"Mechanical trouble," the Spaniard yawned.
He had been hopping halfway across the globe, from Siena, Italy, to Seville, Spain, to Buenos Aires, before landing in Vina Del Var, where he was honored last week for his 25th year in opera.
"Not quite 24 hours straight -- so I'm still fresh," he said with a laugh.
He promises to be fresher still on Saturday, when Mr. Domingo makes his Atlantic City debut at the Taj Mahal. By then, he will have had "eight lovely, wonderful days off" at his home in Acapulco.
"I've been to Atlantic City before," he offered. "But not to sing."
"Oh, no, no, no, no. To hear others sing."
Mr. Domingo comes to A.C. on the heels of countryman Jose Carreras, who gave a concert at the Taj several weeks ago. But Mr. Domingo plans a program much more diversified than that given by Mr. Carreras.
"Of course, I will do the operatic arias and duets, the zarzuellas. But I also want to sing some musical comedy and other popular music -- all of the musical scale."
And the size of the Etess Arena? As well as its proximity to the casino floor, which proved too much of a lure to patrons at the Carreras concert?
"That doesn't frighten me," Mr. Domingo insisted. "I am used to performing in large arenas for big audiences. As long as the sound is good, under control, then the public really feels the music. One can have intimacy in a large place."
Mr. Domingo was born into a musical family 53 years ago. His mother and father traveled throughout Spain singing their zarzuellas (operatic folk shows) from village to village.
When Placido was only 6, the family moved to Mexico -- and today he still calls it home. But in between, he studied his craft, perfected it into a husky, distinctive tenor and eventually became one of the most sought-after singers in the world. The Latin good looks didn't hurt the box office, either.
Nor did his eventual feud with Luciano Pavarotti -- a rivalry that both men try to pass off as so much tabloid tittering.
"Oh, that has always been something more in the imagination of the press -- and I know both of us feel that way," said Mr. Domingo. "There has always been space for both of us. Indeed, there is space for a lot more people."
There was even space for Mr. Carreras to join both Mr. Domingo and Mr. Pavarotti onstage in Rome for a concert prior to the World Cup soccer finale in 1990. The release of that performance on CD has become one of the best-selling classical albums in history.
Now they're planning an encore -- for this year's World Cup finals in Los Angeles.
"It'll be on July 26 in Dodger Stadium," Mr. Domingo revealed. "We're all very excited about it."
Almost as excited as he is about Spain's chances to become world champs.
"They're in a tough group, but I think they will do well," he said.