Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming Reunite in Palm Springs for Inaugural Festival

Courtesy of Neil Husker
Renee Fleming and Placido Domingo

The Palm Springs Life Festival kicked off with two legends in the desert on Sunday night.

"We love opera plots."

So said Renee Fleming from the stage in the early moments of a joint concert with Placido Domingo and the L.A. Opera Orchestra at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort & Spa near Palm Springs on Sunday night. The admission from arguably one of the world's most famous opera singers while standing next to one of the most famous tenors of all time was one of many light moments during a vibrant if not loose 90-minute show.

And the event alone delivered a good storyline. Aside from the gala concert for L.A. Opera’s 30th anniversary season two nights prior, Fleming and Domingo hadn't held a joint concert and performed together since 1998 in Chicago when they collaborated with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony. Further, the concert served as the opening night of the Palm Springs Life Festival, a cultural arts and lifestyle event that continues through April 24.

The inaugural event — presented by Palm Springs Life magazine and IMG Artists and produced by IMG chairman Barrett Wissman — will showcase many talents in the coming weeks at venues across the Coachella Valley including violinists Midori and Sarah Chang, cellist Nina Kotova, pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet, guitarist Angel Romero, fashion designers Zandra Rhodes, Michael Costello and Marc Bouwer and chefs Cat Cora, Gail Gand and the Hearty Boys.

But if it seems odd that Fleming and Domingo kicked off the arts festival in a casino, Wissman told The Hollywood Reporter after the show that's exactly the point. "The world of the cultural arts is so precious and sometimes it feels exclusive to some that we tend to keep people out of the concert hall because of that intimidating environment," he said. “We want to make people feel welcome to come in an enjoy it. I don't care if you are 15 years old and a lover of EDM or DJs, tonight you would've enjoyed the concert. Anybody would've enjoyed it."

The near sold-out crowd inside the desert's pleasant Agua Caliente definitely did.

Led by L.A. Opera music director James Conlon, the concert featured a diverse set of compositions from Giuseppe Verdi ("La forza del destino") and Jules Massenet ("Baigne d'eau mes mains") to Richard Rodgers ("Some Enchanted Evening") and Leonard Bernstein ("Shall We Dance"). Fleming and Domingo offered descriptions of most of the songs with their personal approaches to the material while playing well off one another, even in the moments when Domingo was unsure if he was to be introducing Fleming or vice versa — hence the "loose" description.

Backstage after the show, Fleming told THR how grateful she is to Domingo for what their first outing together — Verdi’s “Otello,” performed in 1996 at New York's Metropolitan Opera — did for her career. "That's what really put me on the map in this country," she explained. "That was the thing that really made people sit up and take notice, so I owe a great deal to him."

That compliment certainly thickens their personal plot, which she tops off with more compliments. "Placido is such a brilliant artist. He’s still singing so well and he’s so charismatic," Fleming says of the 75-year-old (she's 57). "He's an inspiration to me and to anyone who is around him. Tonight was an adventure, because we're performing these songs for the first time, and it’s wonderful."

Speaking of firsts, the full schedule for the Palm Springs Life Festival can be found here.