By Andrea Scarpino
Last night, I heard Placido Domingo sing. He wore a black bow tie and his white hair shone in the lights. He sang the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard, even though he sang in a language I don’t speak. Even better: he sang while Yo-Yo Ma accompanied him on cello. An entire orchestra sat behind them, and thousands of people sat in front of them and August sky opened above the Hollywood Bowl, the Big Dipper above my head, but you wouldn’t have known anything else existed in the world, in the universe even, but that cello and that voice.
Even better: it was a total surprise. The show was Placido Domingo’s first time conducting at the Bowl. Yo-Yo Ma was on the ticket to play the first half. But having Domingo sing, and then having him sing when you didn’t think he would, and then having him sing to Ma’s accompaniment . . . and with the Big Dipper overhead? And a crowd of thousands silent in their seats?
And while they played and sang, Ma’s cello answering every question in Domingo’s voice, I thought about art and the way that art can make you feel immortal, even if you know you’re not. How you can drink red wine and watch the Big Dipper and hear the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard, and think, maybe, art will save you from death’s fate.
And after they played, I thought about the role of the artist in the world, how one clear note across the summer sky can make an entire audience gasp, sit silently, wish for nothing more in life than to keep hearing that note. How when it was clear that Domingo was going to sing, there was a rumbling in the crowd. He’s going to sing! I said to Zac. He’s going to sing, I heard whispered around me. I thought about how an artist can have that kind of power over an audience and still maintain his humbleness. I have known many lesser artists than the two I saw last night who think nothing of bragging about each of their books, how famous they are and who they know in the scene, who silence other artists every chance they get, who refuse to share their art, who want to be on top, no matter who they step on/sleep with/humiliate to get there.
In front of me last night, I saw two amazingly accomplished artists demonstrate, instead, a generosity of spirit, a way for the artist to be humble in the world. After Ma finished his performance with the orchestra, he made sure every key player stood to take a bow. He hugged the first violist and cellist. He hugged Domingo. He looked ecstatic to be appreciated, and wanted to share that ecstasy with the ones who helped him shine. After he played an encore solo, he brought out his friend Domingo to sing with him. And they hugged, again. And they both looked full of joy.
I don’t know what type of people they are off-stage, of course. But last night at the Hollywood Bowl, they taught me how to move a crowd with nothing more than the sound of a voice, nothing more than one bow, one instrument. And they taught me how to be an artist in the world.
Andrea Scarpino is the west coast Bureau Chief of POTB. You can visit her at: www.andreascarpino.com