My First Forty Years
Alfred A. Knopf, 1983
My First Forty Years is the autobiography written by Placido Domingo… and the first thing you surely will notice is that it needs an appendix for the almost forty years passed since its publication.
If have to tell the truth, I have enjoyed this book, but I am not completely satisfied with it. It is well written, if for “well written” you mean that it is an entertaining book – but, from a general point of view, you may have the impression that something is missed. I would have preferred a little more coherence sometimes and instead Domingo begins a chapter with a subject and then fills it with as many episodes, anecdotes (even nice ones, of course) and observations as possible, even if they are not clearly correlated to the main theme. I have the impression that this did not happened because Domingo has lost the thread, but because he likes too much what he is talking about – and actually, at the end of each chapter, nothing remains incomplete. A strict chronological order fortunately avoids fatal misunderstandings, but this implies to structure the chapters as lists of plane flight, opera rehearsals, debut and flight again, which becomes monotonous after a while, even if sometimes there are descriptions of funny incidents and jokes.
My First Forty Years has some good qualities, anyway. First of all, one of the most important singers of the XX and XXI century tells his own story – and this, despite some flaws, is always more interesting than the same story told by someone else, who can be a better writer, but will give you a second or third hand account. Moreover, Domingo gives a lot of important information on theatre life: for example, there are some interesting considerations about conductors (Kleiber, Karajan, Böhm, Levine…) and stage directors (Ponnelle, Zeffirelli, Strehler…), even if usually (and cautiously) they are not focused on personal relationship but on general aspects of their work.
There is also an interesting chapter devoted to four important opera theatres (the Wiener Staatsoper, La Scala, the Met and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden) and their administrations as they were in the Seventies and in the Eighties, a direct and precious witness which can be useful to reconstruct the life in the theatre in some countries in those days. This is one of the best and more homogeneous chapters of the book, alongside the one devoted to those that Domingo calls Electric Performing Experiences and some of their implications. I wonder if some of his opinions about recording are changed with the development of technology.
An Afterward written by Harvey Sachs (Toscanini’s famous biographer, among other things) is a fine summary to the entire book.
In the end, this is not a bad book. It has its limits, but there is more than one good thing in it and it will be not difficult to find them out.