Domingo remembers 'friendly rival' Pavarotti


Related story: Music world mourns Pavarotti

Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti both made their debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1968 and rose to become two of the world's most recognizable tenors.

While often perceived as competitors in the opera world, they were instead close friends whose rivalry made them both better men and better artists, Domingo said.

"I think the career of Luciano was bigger because I was there as his friendly rival, and I think my career is bigger because he was there also as a friendly rival," a somber Domingo told a news conference Thursday.

As director of the Los Angeles Opera, Domingo was in the middle of rehearsals late Wednesday when he heard Pavarotti had died in Italy at age 71.

Domingo said he spoke regularly with Pavarotti during the past year as the Italian tenor battled pancreatic cancer. During their last conversation eight days ago, Pavarotti was cheerful and vibrant, even giving lessons to young singers.

"I could hear singing in the back," Domingo said. "He told me he was trying to prepare a religious album for Christmas."

As partners, they sang together with Jose Carreras in the hugely successful "Three Tenors" concerts that were seen by millions of people worldwide. The collaboration also strengthened their relationship, Domingo said.

"Because of the 'Three Tenors,' many many people have really discovered opera, many people have enjoyed it and have become fans and opera lovers," he said. "One of the most positive things is that it made us really close friends."

When they weren't discussing their work, they talked about their love of sports -- Domingo said he rooted for the Spanish soccer team Real Madrid, while Pavarotti was a fan of Italy's Juventus -- fast cars, and Formula One.

"We talked about what you normally talk about with a friend," Domingo said.

The two had planned to meet next month when Domingo was to travel to Europe, and never said a final farewell, he said.

Conductor James Conlon, the music director of LA Opera, said he last saw Pavarotti in late June in the tenor's home in Modena.

"I was amazed by his spirit, his determination, he was completely coherent," Conlon said. "One can see the effects of his fight with his illness, but one can see the same Luciano: funny when he meant to be, full of spirit, very strong, very determined."

Domingo said he wasn't able to travel to Italy to attend Pavarotti's funeral. The LA Opera's premiere of Verdi's "Requiem" on Sunday will honor his friend.

"We will remember the beauty of his voice, the great career that he lead and the friend we have all lost," he said.