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Plácido Domingo

Peripatetic and multi-talented performer Plácido Domingo turns 70 this month. On a high as he extends the Domingo legend around the world, Scott Adams gets an update on the Spanish tenor’s illustrious career

If I rest I rust. I’m nearing 70, but the older I get the more enthusiasm I have for life.

There is still so much I want to do; in this profession you can never say you’ve done it all, and I plan to continue working while I have the strength and voice to do it. One of the highlights of 2010 was the realisation of a dream. As I’ve got older, my voice has deepened a little, and last year I sang the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra for five different productions around the world. It’s a part I’ve always wanted to sing, due to its complexity, but my voice was just a little too high to tackle it until now.

The past year has been a precious gift.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have regular medical checkups, particularly once you’re over 50. I’d put mine off, with the usual excuse of lack of time, and in February 2010, while performing in Tokyo, I had severe abdominal pain and was rushed to hospital and operated on for bowel cancer. I’ve been incredibly lucky; the operation was a success and I was back on stage six weeks later. It was a shock, however, and it’s made me reevaluate my life.

The poet Pablo Neruda is a fascinating character to bring to life.

I’d followed the Il Postino opera project, based on the 1994 film, since my friend (the composer) Daniel Catán began working on it some years ago. He wrote Neruda specifically for me, taking into account my new lower range. The music is breathtakingly beautiful, with references to Debussy and Strauss, and Daniel orchestrated it using South American instruments, which gives it a unique character. We opened last September with the Los Angeles Opera, and we’re in Paris in June with the same cast.

I love a challenge – I never shy away from work or having to learn something new.

On average I learn at least one new operatic score every year, and have works in my repertoire in Spanish, French, German, Italian and Russian. Over the next 12 months I’ll be singing and conducting in New York, Abu Dhabi, San Francisco, Valencia, Vienna, Bratislava, Madrid and Barcelona.

Music is my life.

When I started singing, in 1961, rumours abounded: “Plácido is working too much, he will burn himself out.” In 1973, when I started conducting, everybody was waiting for me to fail, but I’m still conducting. Fourteen years ago, I became the artistic director of the Washington Opera, then I added the artistic direction of the Los Angeles Opera. We all have a destiny in accordance with the breadth of our shoulders – and my shoulders are broad.

I understand the difficulties of being an aspiring performer.

I was just a young singer in Mexico during the late 1950s, dreaming of success. It’s difficult to get to the top – it requires talent, hard work and help from others. That’s why I set up the annual Operalia singing competition. I’m involved in everything, from raising the €140,000 prize money to selecting the jury. I want young artists to use the money to get access to world-class vocal training and guidance. Last year’s winners were from Bulgaria and Romania, but we’ve given prizes to singers from all over the world – including the Mexican Rolando Villazon, who is now one of the great tenors of the new generation.

Food and football are my other great loves.

I grew up in Mexico and I love Mexican cuisine, with its spices, contrasts of hot and cold, and amazing textures. I opened my first Mexican restaurant, Pampano, with chef Richard Sandoval in New York in 2003, and have recently opened another in Doha that specialises in Mexican seafood dishes. I don’t have time to get really involved in the day-to-day running of places, but this is as close to having a hobby as I get. And when it comes to football, last year was particularly exciting for me, with Spain winning the World Cup. I told my agent not to programme any performances for the nights that Spain were playing, as I would be glued to the TV!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been on stage for more than 50 years, and that on 21 January I’ll enter my 71st year.

I’ll be in Madrid performing in the Gluck opera Iphigénie en Tauride at the Teatro Real (, but will celebrate my big day in a special gala concert organised by the theatre.

On stage will be many of the performers who have appeared with me over the decades and are now my cherished friends. I have no plans to retire at the moment; when the day comes I will be very sad, but I will give thanks for the years of work and the pleasure I’ve had and given others.

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