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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In opera, Verdi's "Otello" is daunting, difficult and highly rewarding for the few who can sing it well. One of the world's greatest Otellos is Placido Domingo. He's recorded the role at least three times and performed it 223 times.

(Soundbite of opera, "Otello")

Mr. PLACIDO DOMINGO (Tenor): (Singing in Italian language)

MONTAGNE: Placido Domingo is one of NPR's 50 Great Voices. Thats the series we've been running throughout the year, highlighting gifted singers from around the world.

We wanted to find out just what makes Domingo so compelling as Otello, the warrior blinded by jealousy when he suspects his wife has been unfaithful. So we turned to some of Placido Domingo's fans: singer and composer Rufus Wainwright, former music critic Tim Page and opera star Renee Fleming.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Ms. RENEE FLEMING (Soprano): If you've ever seen Placido Domingo on the operatic stage, he gives everything. He's full out: Physically, vocally, emotionally - it's a total performance and that's why we love him so much.

My name is Renee Fleming. And the first time I sang with Placido Domingo was in 1994, in a new production of "Otello" at the Met. I was the understudy and I had to step into rehearsal. And it was the Third Act confrontation scene, which is a very dramatic scene between Desdemona and Otello.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

MS. FLEMING: He was so frightening in that scene that, by the end, my legs were shaking so much I couldn't get off the stage. I needed help to go down the steps. I mean talk about an adrenaline rush. And at the end, you know, at the end of the scene, he said: Hello, I'm Placido Domingo. He was completely charming, of course, and by that time I was reduced to jelly.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Professor TIM PAGE (Journalism and Music, University of Southern California): I've been listening to Domingo for about 40 years or so.

My name is Tim Page and Im a professor of journalism and music at the University of Southern California.

And he strikes me as an absolute extraordinary musician - a really one-of-a-kind musician.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Prof. PAGE: Domingo has made kind of a career out of "Otello." It's the last but one of Verdi's operas and it's very it's very, very intense. It's very difficult to sing.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing)

Ms. FLEMING: I've always felt that his voice is very romantic. It's a throbbing, warm, luscious sound, and his passion in his singing and in his voice go along with the total performance. And that's one of the reasons why I think he's so successful, is that everything about him lines up.

Prof. PAGE: With Domingo, you had it all. He has the musicality, the musicianship. He can do a real fortissimo. He can do something that is incredibly loud, but he always makes it musical. In Verdi's "Otello," he has to start with this extraordinarily high, loud, ringing aria called Esultate - let us exult.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Mr. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (Singer-Songwriter/Composer): Yup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: Placido just comes in and cuts you open with his knives of music, and you're instantly under his spell.

Hi, my name is Rufus Wainwright. Im a singer-songwriter/composer, who loves opera.

You know, whenever there's an entrance of a great character, it is a bit like, you know, David Beckham, you know, running out onto the field, or one of the Williams sisters making her entrance. And there's this kind of prowess which has to be stated by the singer on their entrance. And, of course, Placido does that brilliantly with a little help from Verdi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Ms. FLEMING: (Singing in Italian language)

Ms. FLEMING: The colors that he finds in that role, from heroism to a more harrowed, tragic sound, the spectrum is tremendous. It's enormous.

I think "Niun Mi Tema" is my favorite, the end of "Otello." I just had so much trouble keeping from crying, because it was so moving and so beautiful.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Prof. PAGE: Halfway through the aria, he stabs himself. He's dying on the stage, and yet Domingo brings back this memory of life and joy and love, in a very subtle and very beautiful way.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Ms. FLEMING: It was just - I - there's - I don't expect to ever hear anybody or see anyone perform that role as well as Placido Domingo.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Ms. FLEMING: You know, I would say of anyone I've known, his musical curiosity, and particularly as it pertains to opera, and his incredible energy are unparalleled and probably are unparalleled historically.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian language)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in Italian language)

(Soundbite of applause)

MONTAGNE: Our segment on Placido Domingo was produced by Liz Baker. You can watch videos of the legendary tenor performing as Otello, and learn more about NPR's 50 Great Voices at NPRMusic.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

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