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Singer, conductor and opera impresario Plácido Domingo to receive UCLA Medal

Campus’ highest honor, to be presented November 12, celebrates his contributions to the arts and commitment to nurturing young talent

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Kaori Suzuki
Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo, the internationally renowned opera singer, conductor, National Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and winner of 12 Grammy awards, will receive the UCLA Medal, the campus’ highest honor, on November 12 during a medal ceremony and masterclass at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

“Plácido Domingo’s contributions to the world of opera as a singer, conductor, administrator and educator are unparalleled,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who will present the award. “He has been a powerful champion for the arts in Los Angeles for five decades, and his exceptional commitment to arts education embodies UCLA’s highest ideals.”

Domingo made his American debut in 1961 singing Arturo in “Lucia di Lammermoor” with the Dallas Civic Opera. Four years later, he earned national acclaim singing the title role in the U.S. premiere of Alberto Ginastera’s “Don Rodrigo” at the New York City Opera. His Metropolitan Opera debut, two years later, was the first of more than 800 singing and conducting engagements at the Met.

Hailed by Newsweek as the “King of Opera,” Domingo has sung 148 different roles in more than 3,900 performances in the world’s greatest opera houses, including the Vienna State Opera, where he received 101 curtain calls, spanning 80 minutes, after a performance of Verdi’s “Otello” in 1991.

Domingo has often professed his love for Los Angeles, and he has made substantial contributions to the city’s cultural life. He has performed in every Los Angeles Opera season since 1986. But his first appearance here was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 17, 1967, in the New York City Opera’s touring production of “Don Rodrigo.” On November 17, 2017, LA Opera will host a 50th anniversary concert to commemorate that performance.

His talents extend well beyond his performing and recording career. As an opera administrator, Domingo has played an essential role in making regional American companies into internationally recognized ensembles. In particular, he has been a vital presence in LA Opera’s artistic administration since even before the company’s first public performances in 1986. He served as artistic consultant from 1984 to 2000 and artistic director from 2001 to 2003. In 2003, he was named the Eli and Edythe Broad General Director, a position he is contracted to hold through the 2021–22 season.

Domingo also uses his powerful voice to champion the arts and mentor young artists and singers in Los Angeles and around the world. He is chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the interests of the recording industry; is president of Europa Nostra, which brings together Europe’s growing cultural heritage movement; and is on the board of trustees of the National YoungArts Foundation, which supports American high school graduates in all artistic disciplines.

Since 1993, Domingo has promoted talented young singers through his annual Operalia voice competition, which gives 40 singers the opportunity to perform before an international jury. The competition has helped launch the careers of such notable artists as Joyce DiDonato, Rolando Villazón, Erwin Schrott and Isabel Bayrakdarian. He is also the founder of the Domingo–Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera, the Domingo–Colburn–Stein Young Artist Program at the LA Opera and the Centre de Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo at the Palau de las Arts in Valencia, Spain.

“Music has been my life and it gives me indescribable joy to share it with others,” Domingo said. “More than anything else, watching music inspire young people brings me so much fulfillment. I am passionate about nurturing talent and giving opportunities to promising young performers, and if I could only hope to give back half of what music has given me, I would be filled with gratitude.”

Domingo’s gifts as an educator have had a profound impact on young singers across the globe, including at UCLA. In 1994, he was an adjunct professor in UCLA’s department of music, leading choral and orchestral master classes. Among the students he inspired was Angel Blue, who earned a master of music degree from UCLA in 2008, and who has since graced many of the great European concert halls. Blue, who debuts as Mimì in “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in October, also participated in the Domingo–Colburn–Stein program from 2007 to 2009.

“Domingo’s remarkable passion for mentoring young artists and his dedication to enabling singers to realize their full potential is invaluable to the future of opera,” said Judith Smith, dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “His commitment to young singers and musicians throughout the world is extraordinary.”

The UCLA Medal ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on November 12 in UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall (map). It will be followed immediately by an 80-minute master class with the maestro, two students from UCLA’s voice and opera program and two singers from the Domingo–Colburn–Stein program. The ceremony and master class are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are required. Seating is limited and will be available on a first-come, first-seated basis.

The UCLA Medal was established in 1979 and is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual by UCLA. It is awarded to those who have earned academic and professional acclaim, and whose work demonstrates the highest ideals of UCLA. Past recipients include music luminaries Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Mancini, Herb Alpert and Quincy Jones, as well as writer Toni Morrison, President Bill Clinton, architect I.M. Pei, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and UCLA alumna and astronaut Anna Lee Fisher. 

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