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Placido Domingo

The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

Last month, Domingo sang the title role in the Met Opera’s world preem production of Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor” while also overseeing his twin responsibilities as general director of Washington National Opera and L.A. Opera, where he recently conducted “Manon.”

Who knows? Domingo might have done none of those things if not for MGM.

“The three musicals which made the greatest impact on me were ‘The Great Caruso,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” says the tenor turned conductor turned impresario. “The impact of Mario Lanza’s voice on me was enormous and helped to crystallize many things in my mind — most important, that being an opera singer could be a very fulfilling career. To this day, I haven’t figure out whom I have to thank most for that revelation: Caruso or Lanza. However, one thing has always been clear to me, that nature had given Lanza a phenomenal voice which was highly underrated by the classical music establishment. Lanza’s voice was an inspiration not only to me but to countless other opera singers.”

Domingo, who was born in Spain but grew up in Mexico City, found a different kind of inspiration in “Singin’ in the Rain.” He sings the praises of not only Gene Kelly but Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen.

“(They) convinced me that body language is as important in winning over an audience as vocal technique,” he says. “The fact that it is expected today from opera singers to move well and embody physically the characters they are portraying owes as much to ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Seven Brides’ as to acting lessons in conservatory.

“And of course in ‘Seven Brides’ I also discovered another extraordinary voice, that of Howard Keel. I’ve often asked myself whether the movies didn’t rob the opera world of an exponent of that much-sought-after voice type, the real Verdi baritone.

“In essence, I feel that the public misses a great deal of joy these days because MGM musicals are no longer fashionable.”

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