Having attended the previous seven FIFA World Cup™ finals, it was only natural to find legendary opera singer Placido Domingo in Johannesburg last Sunday cheering on his native Spain. And it was to prove eighth time lucky for the celebrated tenor, as he finally realized a lifelong dream of seeing La Roja crowned world champions. Amid the feverish post-match celebrations, the 69-year-old made time for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
“It’s an historic moment – but then so was getting to the Final and even the semi-final. After getting that far, I was hoping beyond hope that it was going to be our year,” he said emotionally at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.
“I like the way Spain play – it’s a fascinating style. Maybe they didn’t dazzle as much as at EURO 2008 but, as I always say, the ball is round, sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s also capricious and loves the woodwork. I mean look at the Paraguay game. What can you do when the ball keeps striking the posts?” he said in defence of Spain’s paucity of goals in South Africa.
Scarce their goals may have been, but they proved enough to lift the most game’s most coveted trophy, which the tenor had the privilege of touching amid the post-game celebrations in the Spanish dressing room. "It is such a extraordinary thing that I feel like a teenager. I’m prouder than ever to be Spanish, and I think it’s very important my compatriots feel that too,” he said with his Roja scarf wrapped around him.
Spanish to the core, although a certain country famed for its opera would love to claim him as its own, as Domingo explained with an anecdote from the 1982 finals, where he performed the official theme song. “I was in the Royal Box [when Italy won the Final] and the Italian president, Sandro Pertini, was so jubilant he threw his arms around King Juan Carlos of Spain. Pertini was jumping about when he saw me, so he asked the King: ‘You do know our Domingo don’t you?’ – the president had seen me several times at La Scala opera house in Milan. However, I replied: ‘Your Majesty, other countries have claimed me but, as you know, I’m Spanish through and through’.”
Placido Domingo has attended every FIFA World Cup since 1982, having also had the opportunity to witness the action at Mexico 1970 and Germany 1974. “I have treasured memories like the meeting in ’74 between East and West Germany, which the latter lost en route to claiming the title. That was a very significant and special game, as it was contested by compatriots only separated by a wall,” says the singer famed for his ability to perform in both baritone and tenor roles.
“Obviously I have a great many memories, both good and bad, from my years following La Roja. Years ago there weren’t that many of us going to their games, but now it’s a whole different story. Nowadays Spain have an extraordinary side. I’d say they have done for about four years now, but especially since 2008,” he added.
The Madrid-born singer/conductor spoke passionately about all 23 Spanish heroes but getting him to single out one proved impossible. “It’s very difficult to do that. I have great faith in the safe hands and guardian angel of Iker Casillas. We have a brilliant backline, not to mention the backbone of the team, Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta… And how inspirational has [David] Villa been?” says this lifelong supporter.
“It’s been a fantastic World Cup and South Africa was a great host. In my time here I found the organisation and security superb. That said, my poor musical ears suffered a bit with the vuvuzelas. But there you go, they brought a lot of atmosphere to the stadiums,” he concluded with a smile.
The Spaniard left South Africa the following week for London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he interpreted the part of Simon Boccanegra in the Verdi opera by the same name. The role, the 131st of his incredible career, was critically acclaimed and marked a triumphant return to performing after undergoing surgery for colon cancer earlier this year.