In Saturday’s Washington Post, Placido Domingo has expressed in print, in a letter to the editor, his conviction that I have a personal animus against him, based on my negative review of his conducting of the Washington National Opera’s Tosca.
Mr. Domingo has expressed the same conviction to me in person more than once, in interviews which I was recording. Since the word “defamatory” is strong language, I wanted to respond in print in the same way I have responded to him in person each time we have discussed this issue (in interviews that were, from my point of view, a pleasure and a privilege to conduct).
Placido Domingo demonstrates that he remains an important and magnificent singer at the 2009 Metropolitan Opera gala.
I have admired Mr. Domingo tremendously as a singer since the dawn of my operatic consciousness: his “Otello,” his Cavaradossi, his Arrigo on the recording of I Vespri Siciliani (complete with a high D, thank you very much). Since I came to Washington, I have expressed that admiration, praising his performances in Tamerlano, in Iphigenie en Tauride, in Il Postino; I even enjoyed his foray into the baritone territory of Simon Boccanegra, though many critics did not. It has been an abiding source of regret to me that I was not able to review for the Post his excerpts of “Otello” at the Metropolitan Opera gala in 2009, which I count among my most memorable moments in the opera house. The most recent feature story I wrote about Mr. Domingo in the Washington Post (Placido Domingo: At 70, A Voice for the Age) reflects my feelings about this fine artist.
But neither past nor present fandom can blunt my ear to things I don’t like. I have been very tough on his tenure as general director of the Washington National Opera.
And I have certainly been critical of some of Mr. Domingo’s forays into conducting. I am far from the only critic to feel that his conducting is not at the same top-flight international standard as his singing; indeed, audiences have expressed the same opinion.
I am saddened that Mr. Domingo sees this criticism as a sign of personal bias. He has mentioned to me a 2004 New York Times review of Madame Butterfly several times as evidence of my supposed animosity, though I believe that my evocation of an Olympic weightlifter struggling to lift a burden and ultimately succeeding was, in fact, giving him the benefit of the doubt. (The idea that my joke about the audience applauding the cherry blossoms was a reflection on his work is clearly a misreading of my intention.)
But I found his performance on the opening night of “Tosca” dismaying. When I wrote the review, I didn’t even realize that Mr. Domingo only came into town shortly before the dress rehearsal, and that the performance I heard was extremely underrehearsed; but this fact only confirms my sense that he could have done much, much better.
I am surprised that Mr. Domingo takes such exception to this review, since, as he himself has told me, an artist knows when he has done well or badly. I can’t believe he feels in his heart that this “Tosca” represented his finest hour.
And I’m sorry that an artist of his stature, faced with evidence that I admire him as a singer but not as a conductor, chooses to dismiss criticism as a personal attack, rather than the response of someone who believes him capable of representing the very best.