I met Placido Domingo
a few days ago. Wait, let me rephrase that. A few days ago, I met Placido Domingo! He is in San Francisco to sing Cyrano de Bergerac
, by the undervalued Italian composer Franco Alfano
. (Why this 1936 opera is performed so infrequently is a post in itself.) After rehearsal one afternoon, San Francisco Opera had a little "press chat" with Domingo in the red-and-gold mezzanine lounge at the opera house. SFO general director David Gockley
did a fine job of interviewing him, both sitting on high stools against a long wall, our plush chairs in a semicircle around them.
Gockley reminded us of the heroic role Domingo played at the 1983 gala opening night
. He'd been in Manhattan that day, preparing to sing at the Met; but when SFO's Otello lost his voice, Domingo was asked to step in. I just learned some of these details. The man was recently arrived from Europe yet. A helicopter took him to SF billionaire composer Gordon Getty
's Lear jet, which happened to be in New York; Domingo flew across the country; the audience heard reports of his journey up the freeway (in a green Jaguar with police escort); and the show went on, just a few hours late.
Gockley told us that, in the '70s and '80s, Domingo sang in San Francisco about once a year. His appearances became more sporadic after he became general director of the Washington Opera and, now, Los Angeles Opera. He last performed here at a special tribute evening
about 10 years ago, during which he sang one act each from Fedora, Samson et Dalila,
and most wonderfully, Otello
, one of his signature roles.
This week, I had a chance to remind Domingo of something unforgettable he did that evening. As he was taking his bows, the singers, some SFO luminaries, and several backstage staffers gathered soundlessly behind him. He did an impressive double-take when he saw them. And then, when Domingo noticed his longtime dresser, a distinguished-looking older man named Joe Harris
, he brought him forward and introduced him. Harris was stunned and touched, and so was I.
When I shared this memory, Domingo looked at me sadly and said, "He died," and he squeezed my hands. "I know," I said. "I thought of you when I read his obituary."
When Domingo was here last, he received a San Francisco Opera medal, awarded from time to time to great performers, conductors, and others who've been important to the company. When Harris, who died three years ago, retired in 2004 after 44 years with the opera, he was presented one, too.