On October 2nd, when the darkness was setting in with the autumn rain and untimely cold, thousands of people had gathered around Jamsil Indoor Stadium. As the car stopped with few blocks left, the taxi driver asked, “Is there something special going on today?” Indeed there was, even if you were not a fan of opera. It was the day of Placido Domingo’s, the 75-year-old king of opera, last performance, perhaps, in Korea. But this ‘perhaps the last performance’ was only our concern like 2 years ago. The question about ‘the last’ was also on the list at the press conference the day before. Domingo said, “I am healthy now, but we never know what is going to happen in 3 months, or even 3 years. Last time I visited Korea was in 2014 and I would like to come back in about 2 years again.” The world has always asked him about ‘the past’ and ‘the future that will be the last’, but his answer has been the same: I cannot retire as long as my voice is heard, the most meaningful performance is the one I am standing on… While other vocalists prepare for their farewell performance, he has set records for about 50 years with 147 roles, more than 3800 performances, 11 Grammy Awards, 12 million albums sales, etc. It will continue with the addition of new numbers to the records.
Prodigious talent, art work that did not exist in the world, the way and ability to reveal the talent in the world… The artists console our lives in various ways, but not a lot can demonstrate the permanence of art. When you listen to Domingo’s music, you feel forlorn words like “life is short, art is long,” “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” are actually real in the world. When you enter the official Domingo’s homepage, the Rolex tells you the current time and the schedule of performances with purchase of tickets. The concert is fully scheduled until July of 2017. “I always look forward to performing, and I feel like I am progressing every day. It is a great privilege to make people happy by doing music. I can never forget this gratefulness.” When this maestro talks about music, he becomes the happiest person in the world with his shining eyes. As is well known, his motto is “If I rest, I rust..” In the past, a vocalist with better technique surely existed. However, the music of a vocalist who does not talk about the end contains eternal feelings. Even if you do not understand the lyrics at all, you can still feel his feelings alive, breathing, through his music. Every time I listen to Domingo’s music, I imagine that if the creator of sound existed, he would have had Domingo’s voice.
Domingo, who loves music, loves opera, and shares his talent with others, emphasizes the importance of training young men. Since 26 years ago, he has started the contest ‘Operalia (the world opera concur)’, and has run young artist program in Washington, LA, and Barcelona. Both the Tenor Kim Gunwoo and the Soprano Park Hyesang, who also made appearance on the stage at this concert, are the winners of Operalia. The Soprano Park Hyesang, who made a debut as Fiorilla of Juliard Opera and Rossini’s <IL Turco in Italia> in 2014 and was highly praised by <Opera News> for her ‘fancy yet lyrical bel canto singing style’, was chosen as the young artist of Metropolitan Opera and won the 2nd prize in Operalia, which was the beginning of her bond with Domingo. After winning at Operalia, as known as a competition where world famous theater associates come together, Park Hyesang was introduced as a rising star to the mass media of many countries in the world, made a debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England, and was even invited by Munich opera house. Also, this Seoul concert, where she performed as a guest singer for Domingo, was like the mark of the new born prima donna. Her solo stage with distinctively bright and cheerful voice was remarkable, yet she shined even brighter when she sang <Rigoletto> with Domingo.
In fact, the previously selected music was ‘Il Pallor Funesto Orrendo’ of <Lucia di Lammermoor>, but Domingo suggested to change the song a week ago. “Even though I didn’t have enough time to prepare for the song, I still liked the latter one much more. It’s a song that starts with ‘Daughter!’ ‘My father!’. Domingo appears as the hunchback, who is mocked by people, and I act as a daughter who is protected in a sheltered life. Then, the daughter finds a lover. Mr. Domingo is like a very sweet father, so it was easier to concentrate on my feelings. But, if Mr. Domingo was Rigoletto in real life and I was the daughter Gilda, would he have been able to control me? Probably not.” The scene where Park Hyesang appears with quick steps and turns her back on her father sulkily, the great master Domingo being shaken up by his daughter amused the audience and at the same time they were captivated with unfeigned admiration. The music of soprano is often described as ‘voice from the sky.’ Her voice sounded as if it was reached safely on the earth, not just falling from the sky. The feelings of the role remained intact, the voice was sincere, and she was as free as a bird on the stage.
Park Hyesang said with laughter that she made more than 10 ‘ssam’ for Mr. Domingo while eating Korean BBQ last time, which would have never happened a year ago. “He is like Michael Jackson of opera. When I first met him, with my jaw dropping, my heart pounded so hard that I almost couldn’t breathe, but right now he means a lot to me. He is like my mentor. Whenever I meet him, I always look forward to what I can learn, and how I will be motivated by him. Not only he gives me advice on details like preparing for the Europe stage, but also tells me the way of dealing with music. I am always impressed just by seeing his love towards music. I can’t express my gratitude in words.” At the <Vogue> shooting, he was making a promise to check Park Hyesang’s song, who is just about to step into the pro-world before her <Romeo and Juliet> in December. Laughter never faded away between them, even sharing the know-hows about taking photos naturally. “Park Hyesang has a beautiful voice and an excellent stage manner. Her singing has improved since the first time I heard her singing. She will be a loved artist for a long time.” Domingo gave unsparing of praise for Park. Inexplicable being without music, the beautifulness reaching the beautifulness has then continued.
Still, Forever, Placido Domingo
VK: The concert was heated up with the fervent response from the audience. How was the performance in Seoul?
PD: I was very excited and pleased about the fact that I was on such an amazing stage. I was very impressed by looking at the audience. I’m sure other performers also felt the same. I think the way to prolong the life of more than 400-year-old opera depends on discovering a new talent and training. I was always proud of the fact that a lot of Korean vocalists has participated in Operalia, and I wanted to repay for it this time.
VK: I would like to ask about how the repertory was made for this concert, and for the usual ones, in what standards?
DP: Repertory is organized by the Spanish operetta and American comedy musical expert. We vocalists choose songs that suit our own voice the best.
VK: Your name is in the Guinness Book of Records for playing about 140 roles. Is there any additional one lately?
PD: My voice became deeper and darker, so I added baritone in the repertory. Lately, I am planning to add roles from Verdi’s <Nabucco> and <MacBeth>. Next June in Vienna, I am going to do a part in Rodrigo of <Don Carlo>. It will be my 148th role!
VK: You deliver the feelings of a role as if you are the one himself. How are you immersed in the role?
PD: Maria Callas said we don’t try to become the character, but we need to make it part of us. I also follow her words.
VK: What is the most important concern when you sing on the stage?
PD: Communicating with the internal side of the character by singing and acting is the most important thing. A person’s voice, especially the singing voice has an ability to deliver a wide range of emotions. It is the singers’ job to deliver the character’s feelings alive.
VK: Among countless performances, what was your most meaningful one?
PD: The best opera performance is the one I am performing now, at the moment. I think in order to communicate with the audience by music, the performer has to focus on that song, at that moment. Even though it might be just a few minutes, it is the most important part.
VK: You have been performing for about 50 years now. Looking back to the past, when is the time you miss the most?
PD: If I become younger again or if I can return to the very past it would be absolutely amazing. But, I am fundamentally a person who thinks about the future, not the past. Even now I am planning a project that will be held in the future. Recently, I just signed a contract as the general director for Los Angeles Opera from 2021 to 2022, and I would be 81 by then. I just hope I will be able accomplish my duty.
VK: What has changed, and has not changed compared to the first time you started singing and now?
PD: The world has changed, and so has the world of opera. When I was young, the opera industry was flourishing and healthy. But now it is barely remained. Of course, there is a positive aspect, too, like the opera came into a wise use through the internet. Beethoven used to say, “The art is long, and the life is short.” We, the individual’s life is short, but the art continues to live long.
VK: How are you able to keep up for so long, up until now?
PD: Complex reasons. I was lucky and my stamina was a big help. I used my voice wisely instead of misusing it. All vocalists learn what to do and what not to do. And we learn how to use our gifts. We should not put efforts on what we can’t do. I like to be Tristan and Siegfried on stage, but it damages my voice. I carefully recorded this part and do not sing live on the stage. If I go against my instinct, I might have to stop singing in few years.
VK: How do you usually manage yourself?
PD: I have learned how to manage the time, my voice, and body. In fact, human’s voice and health change as the time goes by. I can’t sing like a 25 or 35-year-old at the age of 73. It is natural. So, I carefully manage my schedule.
VK: You are always in the state of ‘traveling’ to be on the stage of the world. Have you ever thought this was hard for you?
PD: It is tough, but I have done it for a long time. For me, flying to other continents by plane is same as others going to work by bus or car.
VK: I know ‘Placido Domingo’ means ‘Calm Sunday.’ Has this name influenced you in any way?
PD: I’ve lived quite an active life, so I can’t definitely say my life has been calm and tranquil. But fundamentally I do have this disposition and I got a lot of help going through my life.
VK: You have been asked about the future and the past for many times. Then how is your life, now?
PD: Like I did in the past, physically and vocally, I am doing what I can do in my life with my own pace. This is how I live life.
VK: Tell us about the dream you want to achieve.
PD: As it always has been, and as long as I have the strength to do so, my dream is to give joy to people with music.
From Now on, Park Hyesang
VK: Tell us about your current status.
HS: I have my debut ahead in the opera <Rusalka> in Metropolitan Opera in next January. I am trying to be more focused on myself as people are expecting more with growing recognition. Now I am in between a young artist and a professional.
VK: Tell us about your first encounter with Domingo.
HS: It was when I was finishing my practice at Covent Garden in London. I was walking outside singing in my sleeveless t-shirts and glasses, and someone suddenly blocked my way. When I looked up, it was Mr. Domingo! “It was you singing,” he said. It was like a scene from a movie.
VK: What is your favorite Placido Domingo’s song?
HS: Before I knew him, I liked everything because I always studied listening to them. It is hard to just pick one, but I remember him singing as Germont from <La Traviata> at Orange Opera Festival. I was in tears from the scene where he was asking to leave for his son’s sake. I could feel the entire feelings, and he was Germont himself.
VK: You made a debut from <La Traviata> in 2010. Which stage made you sure about living as a vocalist?
HS: I am still embarrassed to say “I am a vocalist,” so I just say “I am a singer,” instead. I think it is more like myself to be on a stage as a singer, instead of a vocalist. The most memorable stage is the concert for people living in South Korea who came from North Korea. Before, I was preoccupied with the thought that I had to make people happy with my music, but I got rid of that thought from that concert. I realized people will feel it as it is if I do my best.
VK: How do you express feelings by singing?
HS: I am actually an introvert, but I become a totally different person on a stage. I talk my thoughts and secrets by singing. On a stage, my thoughts in my mind are expressed. This one time, my manager asked me, “Do you need music? Do you love or just want music?” The manager said that just loving and liking are not enough and that he needs a person who is desperate. I am a person who can communicate only by music, and thus, music is a vital tool for me.
VK: After watching your performance, I got an impression that you have an abundant power of expression.
HS: I heard both that I am too much, and also good with expression. Before, I used to use all my feelings completely but these days, I prefer ‘Less is More.’ When I get the role, I add a sentence that modifies the character which creates more detailed picture, and I bring back the most similar memories that happened in my life to sing. Then the song becomes sincerer and I don’t feel ashamed of myself.
VK: Tell us about your childhood.
HS: My mom said that my voice was too loud that she couldn’t take me to the public bath. I started singing children’s song while learning the piano. Also I joined the choir and at this one time she got really angry at me. So she told me to quit but I begged her, crying, to let me continue to sing. And here is the girl who loves to sing.
VK: Mr. Domingo sang ‘그리운 금강산 (Longing for Gumgang Mountain)’ at the concert in Korea. Do you also have a Korean song in your repertory?
HS: I always sing a Korean song at my recitals. I sang ‘시편 23편 (Psalms 23)’ the most, and I also enjoy singing ‘아리랑 (Arirang),’ ’내 마음의 강물 (The River of My Heart),’ ‘강 건너 봄이 오듯이 (As If Spring Comes Across the River),’ ‘연꽃 만나고 가는 바람같이 (Like the Wind After Meeting Lotus).’ Among so many performances in foreign countries, I feel very overwhelmed by singing with my identity. Even though they can’t understand Korean, I think they can still feel that I am singing sincerely and earnestly. That is the magic of music.
VK: What will the Soprano Park Hyesang be like in the future?
HS: I can’t imagine it now. I just know that ‘To Be Myself’ is the most important thing. As a typical Asian singing in the world stage, I always said, ‘Yes’ even for the time when I felt uncomfortable and didn’t feel like doing so. But now, I realized saying ‘No’ is not about being a bad person, but it is an evidence of overcoming the fear. Mr. Domingo still dances and is happy with one song, yet still can talk clearly about what he wants. I hope to become a person who knows what they want.