‘He’s the reason I’m working in opera,’ one of the stage managers told me in the middle of the 12-minute standing ovation for Plácido Domingo, ‘he’s the most generous artist there is.’ As she spoke, Plácido was pushed yet again to the front of the stage to acknowledge the applause on his own. His reluctance was genuine. He picked up some of the flowers raining down on him and threw them back, to the orchestra, to the audience. Backstage, he greeted everyone, literally everyone, but not in a rush — with real interest. A programme from his very first performance at Covent Garden — as Cavaradossi in Tosca in December 1971 — was signed: ‘Forty years on…’ ‘Have I talked to everyone?’ he asked after 20 minutes, still clad in the heavy, hot maroon robes of a Doge. This from the man who, aged 70, had just performed three of Verdi’s major roles — as Otello, Rigoletto and the Genoan Doge, Simon Boccanegra — to celebrate 40 years at the Royal Opera House. Everybody there that night, front of house and backstage, had deep memories of him. And he’s probably the artist who more than anyone reaches out to millions of people beyond the world of opera. It’s why he’s such a passionate supporter of our BP Big Screens, which each summer for nearly a quarter of a century have taken our work out to people for free. There’s no one else like him.
Early next morning I’m off to Moscow for the reopening of the Bolshoi Theatre. Timings are tight, traffic in Moscow is awful, and made worse by the fact that President Medvedev is coming and the place is surrounded by security guards. I’m told to go straight to the theatre and change into my dinner jacket when I arrive.