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Posted at 10:05 PM ET, 05/08/2011

Placido Domingo’s big farewell at Washington’s Opera Ball at Chinese embassy

Performers from the Peking Opera greet guests arriving at the Chinese Embassy for Saturday’s Opera Ball. (Daniel Schwartz for the Washington National Opera)

As farewells go, it’s hard to beat a laser show with your face 10 feet tall.

After 15 years with the Washington National Opera, Placido Domingo got a huge send-off at Saturday’s Opera Ball at the Chinese Embassy, where 800 guests were greeted by dancing lasers and massive projections of the legendary tenor singing with folk star Song Zuying at the 2008 Olympics closing ceremony.

Domingo, 70, hasn’t left the WNO entirely — he’s currently starring in “Iphigenie en Tauride” and will conduct the season opener this fall — but his days as general director are over.

Placido Domingo applauds a tribute performance to him during the ball. (Daniel Schwartz for the Washington National Opera)
“I’m proud of the way the company has developed and proud we are recognized as a wonderful, great company in the States and internationally,” he told us. He’s happy that American operas were showcased in the nation’s capital; still regrets that “Nixon in China” and “Moby-Dick” got away. The adrenaline junkie said he’ll miss racing for the shuttle to Washington after rehearsing at the Met to squeeze a week’s work into one day. “Those trips for me were unbelievable,” he said with a broad smile.

But now China beckons. Domingo became an even bigger star there after the Olympics and is helping launch a small opera house in Beijing, among his many other projects. “You have a very big country that has opened to the world in an amazing way,” he told Chinese reporters, who jockeyed for photos with him.


Ball chair Susan Lehrman, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui and Opera President Ken Feinberg at the ball. (Daniel Schwartz for the Washington National Opera)
This was the first time China’s embassy hosted the opera’s annual fundraiser, which brought in $2.6 million. For many of the 800 guests (Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former defense secretary Bill Cohen, Sen. Richard Shelby, Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser), this was a first visit to the embassy’s striking new chancery, designed by I.M. Pei, in NorthCleveland Park.

Ambassador Zhang Yesui and the ball’s chairwoman, Susan Lehrman, collaborated to showcase the best of modern and ancient China: music from Peking Opera performers; a “duck room” with 10 different kinds of Peking duck; a traditional tearoom with calligraphers and musicians; and a modern laser show like those in Shanghai and Beijing.

Zhang called Domingo a “great, great ambassador for promoting cultural exchanges.” And although Domingo has received just about every accolade possible, he seemed a little choked up by it all: “Everybody is letting me know they are really sorry that I leave. This is a beautiful feeling.” Then he grinned. “But I’m not really going to leave. I will come back.”

By  |  10:05 PM ET, 05/08/2011

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