BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Not much keeps opera mega-star Plcido Domingo awake at nights. Indeed, the peripatetic tenor travels so widely it may be hard for him to keep track of night and day. But the challenge of his latest role, that of artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, has got his full attention.
"Audiences," he says with a deep laugh. "We must develop an appetite for opera in this city."
Like many who have tackled the task of cultivating the more serious arts in the backyard of the film industry, he intends to take music out into the city.
"We will take it to the people," he says. "There is a huge thirst out there for something real and powerful, and we will find those people."
The Domingo Strategy, however, is as realistic as it is ambitious. An impressive schedule of planned events includes some of Hollywood's top stars alongside the shining lights of the opera world. John Williams, conductor and movie-score composer ("Star Wars," "ET"), has been invited to create a new work for the L.A. Opera. Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell will direct a production of "Lohengrin," and film director William Friedkin will direct "Duke Bluebeard's Castle."
But Domingo has struck the most dramatic note of his new tenure by announcing that his newly adopted company will present Tinseltown's first-ever production of Richard Wagner's great "Ring Cycle," complete with designs by Industrial Light & Magic, the special-effects house behind films such as "Star Wars."
"We are expecting this 'Ring' to bring many people to L.A. from around the world," says Domingo, who intends to stretch the company that he helped launch in 1986 with a performance of "Otello," but which has not yet reached the level of a world-class opera company. "I want to take this company to a very high level...."
Some observers have expressed concern that opera legend Domingo won't be able to devote sufficient energy to developing the Los Angeles company when he has his global career as performer and conductor to nurture. But an L.A. Opera spokesman sees it as nothing but an opportunity.
"We get the benefit of all his travels," says Edgar Baitzel, L.A. Opera's artistic administrator. "He makes contacts all over the world, and then I follow up."
Perhaps Domingo's most important contact for the L.A. Opera is his close relationship with Internet billionaire Alberto Vilar. One of the globe's most generous arts donor, having given $150 million to the arts in recent years, Mr. Vilar has underwritten the first of what Domingo hopes will be many grand-scale projects in cooperation with other companies.
Vilar has given the $20 million it will take to partner with one of the world's opera luminaries, Kirov (Russia) Opera and Ballet company director Valery Gergiev, to offer annual world premires and original new works, and re-create major productions.
Vilar, a self-proclaimed operaphile, says Los Angeles has enormous potential to become a magnet for great opera.
"L.A. has a golden opportunity to bring opera to people who never thought it was important or at least not as important as film," Vilar says.
This ability to transport major operatic productions around the world is one of the deal's major attractions for Russian maestro Gergiev. "Even the greatest names in history didn't reach people," he says. "They remain buried in history with their experiments, if they are not exposed to the world."
Until the new Walt Disney Concert Hall is completed in 2003, L.A. Opera shares the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and will spend two-thirds of its $6 million annual budget shuttling sets in and out of the shared space. "My main concern right now is a too-long cohabitation," Domingo says.
But, in true operatic form, he keeps an eye on the big picture. The space is not the ultimate issue - audiences are, he says. "If you energize the audiences, as we will do, they will come," he says with a knowing and, yes, a grand smile.
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