Arts Desk

On Plácido Domingo’s Exit from the Washington National Opera

domingo childrenWe should have seen it coming: Last week, Plácido Domingo announced he is leaving for L.A. next June, trading “Hollywood for ugly people” for Hollywood. The opera superstar of Three Tenors fame (though he's now a baritone) had long had his hands full as the often-absentee director of the Washington National Opera, splitting his managerial duties in D.C. with performances and conducting gigs elsewhere. When he took on a second directorship, of the Los Angeles Opera in 2001, it was only a matter of time before he would have to choose between the two. And given Domingo’s penchant for schmoozing with the likes of Nicole Kidman, as he did at the Metropolitan’s Opera’s 125th anniversary ball last year, it really wasn’t much of a choice.

As the jilted party in this love triangle, D.C. will be left asking, What did Domingo leave us with? He undeniably raised the profile of the WNO, and opera generally in the nation’s capital. Just the addition of the “National” moniker in 2000 to what was previously known as the Washington Opera reflected its inflated ambitions, which Domingo largely fulfilled with his name alone.

Yet as the Washington Post reported in January, the improved standing of the WNO hasn’t translated into financial stability. Its $33 million budget last season is down to $26 million this year, and it cut its current season to just five operas. Its much anticipated plans to perform Wagner’s Ring cycle have been put on hold, perhaps indefinitely.

Even if he spent more time hobnobbing with the stars, Domingo's ability to attract fat checks from donors seemed to justify his $600,000 salary at WNO (he made $700,000 at the Los Angeles Opera in 2008, but deferred his salary last year when the opera laid off 17 percent of its staff). Yet with declining revenues, some on the WNO board may have made the cost-benefit calculation that Domingo’s departure isn’t entirely a bad thing.

The WNO has announced additional lineup changes with French conductor Philippe Auguin, who makes his debut as the opera's music director today in a production of Strauss’s Salome at the Kennedy Center. [Correction: as readers below have pointed out, the original version of this post incorrectly named Auguin as Domingo's replacement as general director, not music director.]  Yet with time running out on Domingo, the WNO will soon be left without a big name draw on which opera companies are increasingly dependent to ride out the recession. Who knows—given Domingo's extended absences, it may take a while for D.C.’s opera world to notice he's no longer in town.

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  • Rich

    I think you're a bit confused. Philippe Auguin is the new Music Director at WNO. He takes the place of Heinz Fricke. Placido Domingo is the General Director and currently a replacement has not yet been named.

  • Yuna

    Boy do you have your facts wrong. Auguin is not a replacement to Domingo. Clearly you don't know what you're talking about.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com Jonathan L. Fischer

    Hey: The very misleading original headline was my fault, not Mike's. As for the error in the body, he's corrected it. Thanks!

  • Barbara

    You seem to have some personal grudge against Placido Domingo, too. Quite a spiteful tone to your article.

  • Natarinka

    Why put all the blame on the shoulders Of Plácido Domingo, if he is responsible for the economic crises. And what about the other administrators, don't they have any responsibility in how the WNO is led and it's financials?
    And what about the marvellous performances in which Maestro Domingo has participate during the last 14 years, and all the firstclass singers he brought to Washington?
    Shame on you and all other complainers who ignore this: you all should be thankfull for all he has given the public in Washington!

    Natarinka

  • Sararon

    Il Maestro Domingo dovrebbe tornare in Europa perchè da quello che si legge negli articoli, l'America non lo merita. Qui c'è la vera cultura dell'opera lirica e qui è giusto che Domingo venga a porre le basi per futuri impegni con i teatri, che a lui devono tanta gratitudine per la sua arte

  • Liz

    I think we all owe Plácido a huge thank you for what he has done for WNO. Plácido did not cause or contribute to the world economic crisis. He also has not left Washington. His presence will still be felt through the young artists, conducting and singing and I am sure many will disagree but many more will agree and we all hope that he will be singing and conducting here for many more years.

  • Pingback: Classical music news roundup: Muti withdraws, Domingo resigns, Chang cancels, Israelis go ur-Wagner and Sutherland dies « The Well-Tempered Ear

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