A date with Plácido Domingo, the doyen of opera

The Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo says he's looking forward to performing to an "extraordinarily sensitive" Abu Dhabi crowd.

Plácido Domingo will perform Wagner and Verdi in Abu Dhabi as well as a mix of operettas, Broadway musicals and Spanish zarzuela. Alastair Miller / Rex Features
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You are a regular performer in the Gulf. What distinguishes the audiences here from those in Europe?

Yes, I have now performed at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, in Bahrain, in Qatar and, of course, in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Gulf has an extraordinarily sensitive audience - incredibly appreciative and knowledgeable of classical music. You have a well-educated culture of quick learners and I feel privileged to be a small part of this introduction to opera.

The Abu Dhabi Festival founder Hoda Kanoo labelled your schedule as the "busiest I have ever seen". I also read that your motto is "If I rest, I rust". Is it important for you to keep moving and trying new things?

I do have a full schedule. I don't get bored but, most importantly, I am passionate about what I do and will continue to do it so long as God permits me to. If I can continue to perform at a top level for me and for the audience, then I will. I don't wish to sing a day longer than I should but neither a day shorter than I can.

What will your Abu Dhabi repertoire consist of?

Given the importance of this year being the bicentennial of Wagner and Verdi, two giants of the opera repertoire that I have sung and love, I will dedicate the first part of the programme to music from their treasures. As for the second part, I will include some other genres dear to me and beloved by audiences around the world such as operettas, Broadway musicals and the Spanish zarzuela.

Your new album Songs is a mainstream pop effort with lots of collaborations. Does the decision to record such pop songs act as a confirmation that you have now transcended the opera world to become a mainstream artist?

Well, I actually recorded my first pop album, Perhaps Love, with the late John Denver more that 30 years ago. I followed that album with several other English language songs as well as various crossover recordings, ranging from Argentinian tangos and rancheras from Mexico, to Neapolitan and sacred songs. There are musical treasures in every genre and in every corner of the world and I wanted to have a taste of each.

The album finds you duetting with the likes of Josh Groban, Harry Connick Jr, Chris Botti, Megan Hilty and Katherine Jenkins. How did you pick the artists for the project?

Sony [Domingo's music label] and I worked together in matching the best possible partner for each duet but I, furthermore, re-invited some dear friends with whom I had worked before, like Katherine Jenkins and Josh Groban. The others were simply thrilling collaborations with great artists and colleagues. I also had the pleasure of recording with my son, who has a beautiful voice and tremendous musicality.

Looking back at your time with The Three Tenors, were you surprised by the runaway success?

Yes, a bit. I think we all were. To become the best-selling classical CD in history and to travel the world with more than 35 concerts over a span of 20 years had never been in the initial plan. I am thrilled to have been part of it and to have introduced so many more audiences to opera.

Did you, José Carreras or Luciano Pavarotti receive any backlash from the opera community - perhaps for making opera too mainstream?

Everybody is a critic and entitled to their opinion. I believe it is irrefutable that The Three Tenors phenomenon expanded the awareness of opera around the globe and brought new audiences to opera houses for the first time. Lacking the marketing and financial strength of the pop music industry, opera could really use any kind of exposure it can get and if we contributed to its popularity, I am glad.

You have now been performing as a baritone. How did that change come about and how has the experience been thus far?

I started singing baritone roles in the Spanish zarzuela repertoire opposite my parents earlier in my career. Let's just say that I am coming full circle. My voice has darkened and I can venture into this repertoire with ease and appropriateness. Furthermore, the baritone roles of the Verdi operas are very noble men and they are roles that I thought I could interpret well in this stage of my career.

You have done many amazing things in your career. What is your most important achievement?

It is hard to choose and say. As I often feel, I think the most important thing is what I am doing now, at the present time. It requires and deserves my full attention and it is the greatest achievement: to live the present to the fullest. On a personal level, I am very proud of my family, which my beloved wife Marta has helped me build and keep together.

Plácido Domigo performs tonight at the Emirates Palace Auditorium. Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 8pm. For more information, visit www.abudhabifestival.ae