Plácido Domingo

Artistic and General Director, 1995-2011

Domingo and conductor Emmanuel Villaume share a light moment with the orchestra. Photo Credit: Anastasia Chernyavsky

In 1995 The Washington Opera’s General Director Martin Feinstein stepped down and world-renowned tenor Plácido Domingo was named artistic director. In 2003 he became general director, a post that he would hold until June 2011. The opera company was renamed Washington National Opera in 2004. 

Domingo not only ran the company but often conducted and starred in many productions. He performed the title role in Franco Zefferelli’s production of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, which was conducted by Leonard Slatkin and nationally televised on PBS, and also starred in the nationally-televised production of Massenet's Le Cid.

Domingo and Music Director Heinz Fricke collaborated on some of the most memorable productions in WNO history, including Parsifal, Die Walküre, and Pique Dame. The combination of Domingo on stage and Fricke in the pit created true artistic magic.

Domingo as Siegmund in Die Walküre poses with the french horn section and Maestro Fricke

This was an exciting time for the orchestra as Domingo envisioned increasing the number of opera productions to ten, from the standard seven productions that were the norm when he joined the company. During his tenure, WNO began regularly recording live performances for NPR broadcasts. Audiences were delighted by the productions and talent Mr. Domingo brought to the Opera House, including Samuel Ramey, Eva Marton, Renée Fleming, José Cura, Denyce Graves, Anna Netrebko, and Mirella Freni. The orchestra also accompanied concerts that featured world-famous artists such as Bryn Terfel, Andrea Bocelli, Angela Gheorghiu, and Juan Diego Flórez, as well as sold-out concerts with Mr. Domingo performing his favorite Spanish repertoire, including the iconic song, Granada.

Principal oboist Igor Leschishin and concertmaster Oleg Rylatko share a post-performance drink with sopranos Natalia Ushakova and Anna Netrebko

In April of 1999, the KCOHO was chosen to play at the White House for the 50th Anniversary of NATO, performing a program of opera highlights along with opera stars Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson. This historic performance on the White House grounds with President Clinton and numerous world leaders in attendance was a great honor and milestone for the orchestra.

Other high points of the Domingo era were a splendid WNO gala at Constitution Hall that featured performances by René Pape, Denyce Graves, and Veronica Villaroel, with international conducting star Valery Gergiev leading the orchestra. This event was televised on WETA. Additionally, Domingo conducted the orchestra for the National Endowment for the Arts first annual Opera Honors. In a truly unforgettable moment, honoree Leontyne Price launched into an a cappella rendition of America the Beautiful with her signature thrilling tone.

In 2002 Mr. Domingo founded the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, a resident training program for young singers, conductors, and coach/accompanists. Each year, the KCOHO collaborates with these outstanding young artists in opera productions, Millennium Stage Concerts, and educational performances.

Musicians celebrating with Domingo after a performance of Otello on the Japan tour

Arguably one of our greatest adventures was an 18-day tour to Japan in June 2002. The company performed three operas – Puccini’s Tosca, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Sly, and Verdi’s Otello, starring Plácido Domingo in his signature role. Heinz Fricke conducted Tosca and Otello, although renowned Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev stopped in to conduct a special performance of Otello. David Giménez Carreras conducted Sly, which featured his uncle, José Carreras in the starring role. The performances in Tokyo and Yokohama thrilled Japanese audiences, who rewarded the orchestra with some of the most appreciative ovations it had ever received.

The Japan tour: english hornist Carole Libelo with Japanese "extra" musicians as part of the on-stage banda for Otello

KCOHO musicians sightseeing at the Great Buddha in Kamakura

KCOHO musicians sightseeing at the Great Buddha in Kamakura

In November 2005, the WNO initiated a series of simulcasts with a live broadcast of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on the National Mall, followed by a simulcast of Puccini’s La Bohème in 2007. More than 13,000 people attended the first performance, which was the first operatic event ever broadcast on the Mall. The second simulcast brought opera to another huge audience on the Mall, as well as to sixteen colleges, universities, and high schools across the nation. For the past decade, the WNO has partnered with the Washington Nationals, who now host the broadcasts at Nationals Park. Known as M&M’s Opera in the Outfield and sponsored by Mars Chocolate North America, this free event has become one of D.C.’s most popular family friendly activities.

During his tenure as artistic and general director, Mr. Domingo brought ambitious repertoire, world-renowned guest artists, radio and television broadcasts, live simulcasts, a tour to Japan, and the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program to the WNO, contributing to its emergence as an internationally acclaimed company.