The battle of the budget keeps impinging, though, including the postponement of WNO’s long-touted cycles of Wagner’s Ring, opera’s sine qua non. A fully staged Washington Ring is unlikely before 2013 at the earliest, says Domingo, who reluctantly agreed to the postponement. When Ring cycles for 2010 were announced for Los Angeles, Domingo said the cycle has become “almost a statement of identity for an opera company.” That’s no less true for Washington.
“We decided to get ahead of the curve so we won’t become one of the casualties of this business cycle,” says WNO executive director Weinstein, who notes that the productions entail large casts, vast scene changes, and, at a total running time of about 17 hours, the threat of orchestra overtime: “You can get yourself into a hole and not be able to protect yourself.”
The Ring postponement could mean that Washington may not get to hear Domingo again in a signature role of his later career, Siegmund in the second opera of the Wagner tetralogy, Die Walküre. When he sang the demanding part in a semistaged version in Barcelona last year, a review on the Web site Opera Today remarked on the “miraculous autumn” of the tenor’s career: “A 67-year-old Siegmund would make news anyway, but Domingo’s is simply a miracle for clarion tones, power, and tenderness.”
Just as Domingo can electrify an audience with one of his signature roles, a surge courses through a rehearsal when he walks into the Opera House or WNO’s studios in Takoma Park. And his exacting nature manifests itself regularly, sometimes in unexpected ways.
There was the final dress rehearsal of this season’s Carmen. As extras portraying the last act’s troop of bullfighters paraded onstage flourishing their capes, Domingo sprang into action. “No, no, no, wait a minute!” he called out. That’s not what bullfighters do with capes, said the native of Spain, who went onstage and gave an impromptu lesson in cape handling.
“He takes these things extraordinarily seriously,” says WNO artistic director Scheppelmann. Domingo is just as likely to share his encyclopedic knowledge of opera and vocal technique with younger artists, especially fellow tenors—“tricks,” Scheppelmann says, such as “don’t breathe here.” Domingo has, after all, performed a giant wedge of the tenor repertoire. It’s deliciously intimidating for singers in the WNO Young Artist Program.
“He knows everything,” says José Ortega, the tenor who left law school and Wal-Mart. “He has an incredible instinct.”
“If you mess around he knows it, but at the same time he has sympathy,” says Jesus Daniel Hernandez, the Army veteran.
Domingo’s energy is another example for young singers. Being tired, Scheppelmann says, is not an excuse for anyone in a company headed by Domingo and his Energizer-bunny approach to life.
Now all Domingo and WNO need to do is keep donors and subscribers equally revved up.