How I caught Placido Domingo’s cold

The great Spanish tenor Placido Domingo has been getting rave reviews for his performance in the baritone role of Simon Boccanegra in Verdi’s powerful and gloomy opera of that name. Domingo is now nearly 70 and has been singing professionally as an opera singer for over 50 years.

Old tenors don’t really turn into baritones but Domingo is exceptional in so many ways that he really, at this stage in his career, can do whatever he wants. He will have this run of performances at Covent Garden which will be transmitted live on some big television screens in city centres around Britain and he will also bring his performance to the Proms this summer too.

So if you want to catch this great artist whilst he is still performing go now.

I shan’t be there because I am just funny about these things. I would rather remember his voice in its prime and anyway I think Verdi wrote for the baritone voice with a very particular sound in mind. He loved the top of the baritone voice and expected it to excite with the danger of its high notes. Placido Domingo has no trouble with the top of the baritone register but the ease of his voice there makes its less than exciting – and Verdi is all about excitement.

He is a wonderful musician though and an impressive actor so I know I am in a minority on this one.

I once made a television programme with the great man and remember sitting with him in the stalls at Covent Garden during a rehearsal. He struck me as a remarkably normal and serious person with an understated charm which is not always the mark of an opera star. He was telling me how he was struggling with a bad cold which, I could hear, had effected his speaking voice.

When he was up on stage, even though this was only a rehearsal, that distinctive burnished sound filled the auditorium. He has always known just how to handle his voice.

I prefer to remember him from that earlier part of his career when he, unwittingly, handed on to me not just admiration for a great artist but also a rather nasty cold which surfaced about three days after that meeting at the Royal Opera House.

I felt privileged to have shared his germs.

So, I won’t be going to see this production but, if I was at all tempted it was to see the young Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja who is also in this show. He is a Domingo prodigee but, dare I say it, his voice has more of the golden beauty of a young Luciano Pavarotti. No two voices are alike of course but he is looking after his voice and treading gently and slowly towards being a very great tenor indeed. I can guarantee you Verdi excitement when Mr. Calleja sings.


  1. I read that Domingo had surgery for colon cancer earlier in the year, but he's still back, doing what he does best. Apparently his motto is "If I rest, I rust."

    'Simon Boccanegra' is not his first dalliance with the baritone repertoire. He recorded Figaro in 'The Barber of Seville' and, I understand, that Pavarotti was to have sung Almaviva but dropped out.

    Pavarotti has a beautiful clear silvery sound, but it is Domingo with the creamy velvety richness that hits the spot for me. I'll be at the Proms, and I will be entranced, I am sure.

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