Domingo Is Still Number One in 30 Years

It is sometimes said among theatergoers that a bad final dress makes for a great opening night. If this is true, does less-than-perfect inaugural performance indicate success for the company as a whole?

When LA Opera opened the 1986/87 season with its first performance of Verdi’s Otello on October 7, 1986, nervous excitement and anticipation clung in the air—and apparently on the curtain as well. As the lights dimmed and conductor Lawrence Foster took his place at the podium, the curtain began to rise, only to malfunction and stick at its halfway point. The show went on and the curtain finally rose upward an instant later. Though many in the audience or behind the scenes must have been shocked, this proved to be only a small glitch in the overall evening. LA Opera has certainly clung to a standard of excellence in the 31 years since then. We’ve experienced ups and downs, but what has remained most constant is Plácido Domingo’s invaluable involvement with the company.

September 1, 2002; Los Angeles, California: USA
Los Angeles Opera
‘The Girl of the Golden West’ Dress Rehearsal
Copyright 2002 Robert Millard/LA Opera

Domingo has been with us for virtually every milestone. He sang the title role in Otello on that fateful night. Before assuming the position of General Director after Peter Hemmings stepped down in 2000, Domingo served as Artistic Consultant for LA Opera for 15 seasons. He’s experienced all the hardships felt by the company—most notably during the Great Recession, when the company had to scale back in production costs. In an interview with Variety last year, Domingo said the recession seemed “endless,” also adding: “The company has grown tremendously since 1986, but it was during this time that the company had to scale back. We went from doing eight or nine productions, to five or six per season… it is my hope that by the new decade, we will go back to our original schedule.”

Former General Director Peter Hemmings

Indeed, we’ve since landed back on our feet, as each season becomes more elaborate than the last. LA Opera has grown into a supernova of entertainment for Angelenos, and it’s the fourth largest opera company in the United States. Opera in Los Angeles has a history dating all the way back to touring companies in the late 19th century, followed by the glorious but short-lived Los Angeles Grand Opera (1924-34) (a victim of the Depression), to the Los Angeles Civic Grand Opera, founded by Francesco Pace in 1948. But LA Opera’s 1986 inauguration launched a new era, one that elevated the art form to the modern century, as evidenced by the grandeur in such iconic company productions as Franco Zeffirelli’s opulent staging of Pagliacci in 1996, all the way to John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles in 2015.

As each year passes, new artists are welcomed into the company and make the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage their home. Soprano Nino Machaidze, the star of this season’s The Pearl Fishers, who made her company, for example, has sung with LA Opera in almost every season since her 2009 debut as Adina in The Elixir of Love. Alumni of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program like soprano Amanda Woodbury, tenor Benjamin Bliss and bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee, who were nurtured and polished during their tenure, have seen triumphant returns to LA Opera.

So much has changed in 31 years, but at its core LA Opera has always preached the same message: to make opera available to everyone. Join us, and let the magic of opera into your life!


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