Domingo: ‘This has been the most extreme experience of my life’

Domingo: ‘This has been the most extreme experience of my life’


norman lebrecht

August 04, 2018

On conducting in Bayreuth.

Exclusive interview with El Pais.

Read here.


  • anon says:

    When is Bayreuth going to be run by professionals instead of heirs who have no qualification other than the cosmic luck of being a particular Wagnerian spermatoza meeting the egg of the month?

  • Caravaggio says:

    Three times is the charm and so here is the memo in case it never got through. Domingo’s reactions are so very typical of people who suffer from inflated self delusion, forever hanging on to any excuse no matter how lame to justify their unwelcome presence and their subpar output. The (suspect) engagement of Domingo to “conduct” Wagner at the master’s shrine is that, to accommodate Domingo’s incessant ego and vanity, the festival administration allowed the mounting of Die Walküre (and only Die Walküre) during a non-Ring Cycle year. Why was this done? There can only be one answer. We well know Domingo could not get through the other missing three works if it meant reviving The Three Tenors.

  • Jack says:

    Beyond being actually qualified to conduct a score as vast and complex as Die Walkure, there is the technical challenge involved with conducting in the recessed Bayreuth orchestra pit. It has defeated many far better conductors than the estimable Domingo. One really needs to ask whether he really knew what he was getting himself in for.

  • mr oakmountain says:

    I wonder if the seemingly great difficulties conductors face when conducting in Bayreuth could not be easily solved with a video monitor and a small speaker or open headphones giving the conductor a better idea what’s going on outside the pit, as well as discreetly hidden video monitors where the singers could see the conductors. It is being done elsewhere.
    Or would the judicious use of modern technology spell the end of civilisation?

    • Edgar says:

      In answer to your question: No. In addition: the Festspielhaus sorely needs air conditioning (yet hard core Wagnerians prefer to be carried out on a stretcher, like Titurel in his coffin, after succumbing to the heat). Under the current heatwave, the place, and even more the pit, is like an oven. Welcome relief is had onstage, as there is some draft produced by keeping doors open. As Hans Knappertsbusch once has been reported saying about his colleagues playing in the hallowed pit: as far as I am concerned they can show up in their swim trunks.

    • Jack says:

      As a kid I always wanted to go to Bayreuth, but when I heard about the horrible heat, that about did it for that ambition. But the problem for conductors is quite different.

      I just finished reading “The Ring”, the book about Solti’s one time at Bayreuth, and the difficulties have to do with hearing between the stage and the pit. Singers cannot hear much of what’s coming from the pit. The back of the orchestra in the far reaches under the stage can hear nothing of what’s coming from the stage, and in the conductor’s position, there’s something of a delay from onstage to what’s happening in the pit.

      I’m not sure that earphones would help and might well hinder a conductor because the unique acoustics of the pit and hall require ears that can clearly hear what’s coming up from the pit into the audience.

      This is discussed in the NYTimes’ recent interview with Christian Thielemann, so by accounts seems to have mastered the situation about as well as anyone. Here’s the link:

      • Caravaggio says:

        And yet, despite the difficulties and challenges presented by the buried pit, there is ample evidence of superlative conducting at Bayreuth, past and present, from real conductors who know what they are doing. That the amateur Domingo could not coax nuance or color from the orchestra, let alone coordination with the singers above, is a testament to his inadequacy and his alone. There is also ample evidence of superlative singing, past and relatively present, absent during the other night’s Die Walküre. And absent too during the other night’s Der Fliegende Holländer. Both were appalling performances. Too bad Thielemann alone could not rescue the sinking ship.

      • Nick2 says:

        I have been in the pit during a rehearsal. Certainly the volume of sound is considerably greater than in a standard opera house. On the other hand, the curved “wall” at the front of the pit projects that sound pretty well on to the stage. Taken together with the wing monitors that are found in every opera house, those singers I know who have sung there have not found it difficult either to hear the orchestra or pick up their cues from spevific instruments. No doubt it takes a little getting used to, but the same would be true of a number of other Houses.

        When I saw the Ring back in the less globally warm 1971, it was quite pleasant sitting inside. On the evening of Siegfried it seemed the master had even orchestrated a violent thunderstorm outside complete with lightning during the second interval!

    • Bruce says:

      Sounds like the way to have the best experience is not to go :/

      • Caravaggio says:

        The way to the best experience is not to go to performances with incompetent singers and/or conductors. Simple.

        • Nick2 says:

          That may be true nowadays when tickets are relatively easy to come by. In my 20s the waiting list for tickets was around 10 years and it was a bit of a lottery which performances you could attend. The Ring cycle of 1971 had some fine singers but a conductor, Horst Stein, whose sole objective seemed to be getting to a pub afterwards in double-quick time. I cannot recall any other cycles where the conductor was in charge of an express train.

    • Nadine Weissmann says:

      There are plenty of monitors (like in every other opera house) to provide the singers with visuals of the conductor in case they are far away or required to look in another direction. Plus prompters who also give visual cues or conduct along with the beat in case the singers can’t hear (or see) clearly. Several musical assistants give the conductor plenty of feedback in rehearsals how it sounds outside in the house.

  • Ben says:

    Just let it go. We don’t need another great musician risking deep depression by all the armchair conductors.

  • Sylvain says:

    Maybe you will be interested in the fact to know that Placido rehearsed a couple of months before Bayreuth with a reduced training-orchestra and asked to Bayreuth Festival a permanent assistant in the pit, especially for the brass section in second and third act when Wotan enters on scene.

    • Selim says:

      That’s really professional from Domingo’s side, he has always been a hard worker. But does Bayreuth’s audience deserve that Plácido (a totally unexperienced conductor in a full Wagner opera) is invited to a house with a historic roster full of top conductors with a vaste experience in the romantic orchestral and vocal repertoire, that he conducts “Walküre” there?
      If the festival wants to make an artistic “jump” with conductors, as they did in the past with the new era stagings tha could be another debate.

    • Jack says:

      Good thing Gilbert Kaplan never fancied conducting at Bayreuth.

  • Ed says:



    I really hope dear Placido gets invited back to conduct.
    If only just to read the inevitable comments on here.