Domingo Re-Ups With Washington, L.A. Operas

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Placido Domingo will sign on for an additional five years as general director of both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera through the 2010-11 seasons, it was learned yesterday. His contracts with both troupes had been scheduled to expire this year.

The Los Angeles Opera held a news conference about the agreement yesterday morning. Sources close to the negotiations in Washington affirmed that Domingo was staying on with the WNO, but that no decision would be announced until later this week.

"Washington made a deal with the Los Angeles Opera that it would wait at least two days until after the announcement in California before making an announcement of its own," a WNO insider, who asked for anonymity because of the violation of that deal, said yesterday.

The definition of a general director varies from company to company, but the title commonly denotes a person who handles both artistic decisions and administrative affairs at the highest level. Therefore, Domingo -- who is now 65 and continues to sing in some of the world's greatest opera houses and has increasingly added conducting to his busy schedule -- is the ultimate decision-maker for these two medium-size but wealthy and ambitious American companies. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Domingo has been associated with the Los Angeles Opera since its creation in 1986, first as artistic consultant, then as artistic director and finally as general director. He came to Washington as artistic director of what was then known as the Washington Opera in 1996 and was promoted to general director seven years later. He reportedly has been paid $450,000 a year in the WNO post.

"The whole situation is unique because there has never been a general director who was the head of two major opera companies," Patrick J. Smith, the former editor of Opera News, said yesterday. "But the way it's being handled is very silly. This business of who gets to announce what when is just a power play -- and who cares? Everybody knows that Placido can stay in both places as long as he wants. He's one of the great fundraisers in the history of opera, and he's not exactly in a shaky position in either Los Angeles or Washington."

Indeed, this is the second time that the news of a change in Domingo's status at one troupe has been followed by an immediate and all-but-identical announcement from the other. In 2003, on the very day Domingo was upgraded from artistic director to general director in Los Angeles, WNO board President Michael Sonnenreich announced that the tenor would do the same thing in Washington.

Over the past several years, there had been speculation that Domingo might be in the running to take over New York's Metropolitan Opera after the retirement of its long-serving general manager, Joseph Volpe, this summer. The October 2004 announcement that Peter Gelb, then president of the Sony Classical record label, would take over for Volpe put an end to those rumors, and made Domingo's renewals in Los Angeles and Washington much more likely.

"I wonder why Los Angeles felt that it had the right to announce first," Smith said with a laugh. "After all, Washington is now a 'national' opera -- it says so in the title!"

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