Placido Domingo

Citation metadata

Date: Oct. 1, 2015
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,084 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1330L

Document controls

Main content

About this Person
Born: January 21, 1941 in Madrid, Spain
Nationality: Spanish
Occupation: Tenor
Updated:Oct. 1, 2015

Few opera singers have made such an impact on their musical genre as Spanish-born Placido Domingo, a critically acclaimed tenor who has treated audiences to his mellifluous voice in the greatest opera houses of the world. "Domingo is widely regarded as the supreme lyrical dramatic tenor of the late 20th century," claimed the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, which added that he is "an actor of exceptional passion and commitment as well as a singer of warmth, intelligence and fine taste." Edward Greenfield echoed these opinions in High Fidelity in 1970 when Domingo was still in his twenties, writing "Domingo is almost too good to be true, the possessor not only of a superlative voice, but of a kindly, modest temperament that stands correction without fuss." Domingo has also received kudos for his conducting of operas, a sideline he began in the early 1970s, and later as artistic director of various opera houses, a duty he undertook through the 2010s. Domingo also transitioned from tenor to baritone in the 2010s and began conducting performances at various performances.

Having sung in nearly 400 performances of 147 different roles, Domingo has also contributed his voice to well over 100 recordings of operatic works. While he is perhaps best known for mastery of the title role in Verdi's Otello, almost all of the major roles in both the Italian and French repertories have been sung by the artist. He has also explored the great roles in German opera such as Wagner's Parsifal and Lohengrin, and the role of Siegmund in Die Walkure. In recent years Domingo has brought the joys of opera to general listeners as well, as part of the famed "Three Tenors" that include Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras.

Early Life and Career

Domingo developed an early love of music while growing up in Madrid, Spain, largely because his parents, Placido and Pepita Domingo, were professional singers who specialized in a Spanish form of light opera called the zarzuela. His mother was known as the "Queen of Zarzuela" during the 1940s when that form of music reached its peak in popularity. In 1950 the Domingo family relocated to Mexico after securing a contract to perform there; eventually, Placido Sr. and his wife started up their own operetta company in Mexico City. The young Domingo continued his study of piano in Mexico, and by the time he was in high school considered becoming a conductor. Sometimes he performed in his own parents' productions. His other great love as a youth was soccer, and he played goalie on his school team as a teenager.

While attending the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, Domingo received instruction in piano and voice. He also studied conducting under the noted conductor Igor Markevich. The first vehicles for his singing was musical comedy, among them a role in the Mexican premiere of My Fair Lady. Interestingly, Domingo began his singing career as a baritone, then was convinced to switch to tenor by Carlo Morelli, a former Metropolitan Opera star from Chile who had heard him sing. I used to force a lot," admitted Pavarotti to the New York Times in 1968. "I was not at all secure on high notes. But I worked, and little by little I began to dominate the sound instead of vice versa."

Domingo's first appearance as a baritone was in the zarzuela Gigantes y cabezudos in 1957. Two years later he successfully tried out for the Mexican National Opera, for which he debuted in Rigoletto in 1960. He appeared on stage in his first big role in a performance of La Traviata in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1961, assuming the role of Alfredo. He continued to succeed that year in a performance of the key role of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor in Fort Worth, Texas in 1962, starring with Lily Pons in her final role.

Word reached Domingo in 1962 that the Israel National Opera Company was looking for a tenor, and he traveled to Tel Aviv to land the position. Although not intending to spend more than several months there, he stayed for three years and 280 performances of 12 leading roles, most of them in Hebrew. During the five-month period that he was in Don Giovanni on a recurring basis, approximately 120,000 people attended the opera, even though the city's entire population was only half a million.

In 1965 Domingo auditioned for the New York City Opera and became part of that company, making his mark in the roles of Don Jose in Carmen and Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. The following year he opened the season in the title role of the North American premier of the modern opera Don Rodrigo by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Domingo's performance of a difficult role was heralded by New York City critics, especially his acting. Two years later he had his debut at the renowned Metropolitan Opera House (the Met) in New York when he replaced Franco Corelli as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur. Since that debut he has performed in every season at the Met, logging up over 300 performances of 28 different roles. He has also sung in more opening nights there than any other opera singer except the legendary Enrico Caruso.

Growing fame put Domingo in demand at the most famous opera houses around the world. In 1969 he made his first appearance at La Scala in Milan, then two years later appeared in Franco Zeffirelli's production of Tosca at London's Covent Garden, and later that month in Barcelona in Manon Lescaut. He received rave notices for his performance as Vasco da Gama in L'Africaine in San Francisco in 1972, as Arrigo in Les vepres siciliennes in Paris and New York City, and as the title character in Otello in Hamburg and Paris in 1975.

Conducting Debut

A major new chapter in Domingo's career began in the 1973-74 season when he made his debut as conductor. He first wielded the baton for a production of La Traviata for the New York City Opera company. Since that time he has conducted leading opera performances in the most esteemed opera houses across the globe, for the Met, Vienna State Opera in Austria, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and others. Domingo has also taken conducting lessons from Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. He later became the principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Music Center, which he helped found.

A lover of many types of music, Domingo on occasion veered away from the operatic repertory in both performance and on recordings. He had his first pop hit in 1981 when his recording of a duet with John Denver called "Perhaps Love" made it into the Top 20. Eight years later Domingo invaded pop territory again with "Till I Loved You," a duet with Jennifer Rush that made the Top 30 in the United Kingdom.

In 1986 the tenor received a great honor when he sang the title role in Goya during its world premiere in Washington, DC, a role that had been written especially for him by composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Making opera accessible to a wider audience had always been a desire of Domingo's, and he played a major part in doing so in the 1990s by becoming one of the famed "Three Tenors." The first performance together of Domingo, Pavarotti, and Carreras at the 1990 World Cup Championship in Rome was a tremendous success and created scores of new fans for operatic-style music. The trio's popularity was made clear at their celebrated concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angles in 1994, whose television audience of some 1.3 billion made it the most seen and heard event of serious music in history. Over ten million CDs and videos of the event were sold worldwide. The popularity of the Three Tenors resulted in the trio becoming a regular act, and they later went on a world tour that included appearances in Tokyo, London, New York City, Munich, Melbourne, Vienna, Goteborg, Dusseldorf, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Other Ventures

A long-time supporter of new operatic talent, Domingo began a vocal competition in 1993 for young singers that offered cash prizes. Winners were also assured of receiving his support in helping them boost their careers. In the fall of 1996, Domingo became the new artistic director of the Washington Opera in Washington, DC, and in 2000 he accepted a simultaneous position as artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera. "We chose him because he is a consummate musician," claimed Patricia L. Mosel, the Washington company's executive director, in Time magazine. "He knows voices. He is a very fine pianist. He knows singers, firsthand, having sung with them. What better person to cast and choose repertoire."

Domingo also appeared on the big screen in filmed versions of the operas Otello, La Traviata, and Carmen. A member of the French Legion d'Honneur and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, he has contributed his voice to many acclaimed recordings, including eight Grammy Award winners. Domingo has received many unique honors as well. In 1999 he was honored by New York City's Third Street Music Settlement at the 105th anniversary celebration of that institution, and in 2000 he received a Kennedy Center Honor. Also in 2000 he was named as the godfather at the christening of a Spanair Airbus 321.

The Latin Grammy Awards honored Domingo with their person of the year award for his cultural and philanthropic accomplishments in 2010. In September of 2011, Domingo signed a recording contract with Sony Classical and celebrated his fiftieth year as an opera singer. Also in 2011, Domingo ended his artistic directorship in Washington, but remained in his position at the Los Angeles Opera through 2013. That year, he suffered a pulmonary embolism resulting from a deep venous thrombosis, which is a blocked blood vessel. The clot had moved from his leg to his lungs and became lodged in an artery. Domingo was hospitalized and made a full recovery. After regaining his health, Domingo continued to perform and conduct at various opera houses around the world, effectively transitioning from his usual high pitched tenor vocals to the lower pitched baritone, tackling roles such as the title characters in Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra.


Born January 21, 1941, in Madrid, Spain; married Ana María Guerra Cué, 1957, (divorced); married Marta Ornelas (a lyric soprano), 1962; children: Jose, Placido, Jr., Alvaro Maurizio. Education: National Conservatory of Music, Mexico City, Mexico.


Moved from Spain to Mexico, 1950; studied piano and singing as a child; performed in zarzuelas staged by parents; studied conducting under Igor Markevich; debuted as baritone in a zarzuela (Gigantes y cabezudos), 1957; switched to tenor; joined Mexican National Opera, 1959; had operatic debut, in Rigoletto, 1960; performed in first major role, as Alfredo in La Traviata, Monterrey, Mexico, 1961; sang with Israel National Opera Company, 196-65; joined New York City Opera, 1965; performed with Hamburg State Opera, 1967; made debut at Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY, 1968; debuted at La Scala, Milan, Italy, 1969; performed at Covent Garden, London, U.K., 1971; conducted an opera performance for first time (La Traviata) with New York City Opera, New York, NY, 1973; recorded duet with John Denver ("Perhaps Love"), 1981; recorded duet with Jennifer Rush ("Till I Loved You"), 1989; helped found Los Angeles Music Center Opera; first performed with Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras as "Three Tenors," 1990; starred in film versions of Carmen, Otello, and La Traviata; began vocal competition for young singers, 1993; became artistic director of the Washington Opera, Washington, DC, 1996-2011; became artistic director of Los Angeles Opera, 2000-2013.


Grammy Awards: Best Latin Pop Performance, 1984, and Best Classical Vocal Performance (with the Three Tenors), 1990; Kennedy Center Honor, 2000; Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, France; Legion d'Honneur, France; Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, 2010; Grammy Award for best classical album for Verdi: Baritone Arias, 2014.


Selective Works

  • Perhaps Love, Columbia, 1981.
  • Christmas with Placido Domingo, CBS, 1984.
  • At the Philharmonic, Columbia, 1989.
  • Domingo Songbook, Sony Classical, 1992.
  • 16 Days of Glory (1984 Summer Olympics), Deutsche Grammaphone, 1997.
  • Desires, Bci, 1998.
  • The Greatest Arias, BMG Special, 1999.
  • Songs of Love, EMI, 2000.
  • Sacred Songs, DG Deutsche Grammophon, 2002.
  • The Three Tenors Christmas, Sony Classical, 2004.
  • Zarzuelas, Allegria, 2005.
  • Placido Domingo Sings Tangos, EMI, 2007.
  • Amore Infinito, Sony Classical, 2008.
  • The Tenor, Sony Classical, 2009.
  • Passion: The Love Album, EMI, 2011.
  • Songs, Sony Classical, 2012.
  • Encanto del Mar: Mediterranean Songs, Sony Classical, 2014.
  • Verdi, Sony Classical, 2013.
  • My Christmas, Sony Classical, 2015.



  • Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, pp. 611-612.
  • Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 5, Guinness Publishing, 1995, p. 3953.
  • Sadie, Stanley, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Volume 1, Macmillan, 1992, p. 1194.


  • High Fidelity, October 1968, p. 1.
  • New York Times, November 3, 1968, Section II, p. 19.
  • New York Times Book Review, December 29, 1996, p. 7.
  • Time, January 27, 1997, pp. 64-66.


  • "Placido Domingo Biography," AllMusic, (October 1, 2015).
  • "Plácido Domingo and His Roles," Placido Domingo Official Web Site, (October 1, 2015).
  • "Placido Domingo in High Spirits After Release from Hospital," Los Angeles Times, (October 1, 2015).
  • "Plácido Domingo Renews Contract with L.A. Opera through 2013," Los Angeles Times, (October 1, 2015).
  • "Placido Domingo Signs With Sony Classical," Billboard, (October 1, 2015).
  • Additional information for this profile was obtained from the All- Music Guide, Unitel, and BMG Music websites on the Internet.


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|K1608001257