Recipient 2009 - Plácido Domingo - The Birgit Nilsson Prize

The legendary Swedish dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson established a foundation for a prize to be awarded for outstanding achievement in opera and concert.

Birgit Nilsson

Recipient 2009 – Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo
Honors & Awards

Plácido Domingo

domingo-2009 [lead]Plácido Domingo was the first recipient of the Birgit Nilsson Prize. The name of the first prize winner, chosen by Birgit Nilsson herself, was kept confidential until February 20, 2009. He received the Prize in a festive award ceremony on October 13, 2009.[/lead] Plácido Domingo’s worldwide career is legendary - singing 130 different roles, more than any other tenor in history. Ten years ago, Plácido surpassed Caruso’s longstanding record of opening the Metropolitan Opera’s season, and this year he celebrates his 40th year singing at the Metropolitan Opera, having opened the season 21 times. Domingo’s musicality is confirmed by his extraordinary repertoire and singing career as well as his accomplishments as a conductor, administrator, humanitarian, and creator of young artist programs and competitions. Some of Maestro Domingo’s accolades include: the United States Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center Honors; France’s Legion of Honor, England’s Honorary Knighthood of the British Empire and Oxford University’s Honorary Doctorate, and President Gorbachev’s World Award for Humanitarian Causes.

Birgit Nilsson and Plácido Domingo

Birgit Nilsson and Plácido Domingo first sang together in New York at the Metropolitan Opera on February 15, 1969 in a matinee production of Tosca. Nilsson remarked that "Plácido acquitted himself splendidly. He was an incredibly good Cavaradossi, his acting was superb — he was the part, he loved the part and on top there was gorgeous singing." A collegial recognition of Birgit’s artistry was evident during a television interview several years ago when Plácido Domingo was asked what musical recordings he cherished most – he answered, "One of my all-time favorites is ‘In questa reggia’ sung by Birgit Nilsson but the recording cannot compare to the sound I heard when singing with her."


[lead]Plácido Domingo was born in the Barrio de Salamanca district of Madrid on January 21, 1941. He is the son of Plácido Domingo Ferrer and Pepita Embil Echaníz, two Spanish Zarzuela performers, who nurtured his early musical abilities.[/lead] Domingo's father, a violinist performing for opera and zarzuela orchestra, was half Catalan and half Aragonese, while his mother, an established singer, was a Basque. After moving to Mexico at the age of 8, Plácido Domingo went to Mexico City’s Conservatory of Music to study piano and conducting, but eventually was sidetracked into vocal training after his voice was discovered. The highly gifted singer had his first professional engagement as accompanist to his mother in a concert at Mérida, Yucatan, in 1957. He soon achieved great acclaim at international level.

Challenged by cosmopolitan groups and new roles

In 1961, Domingo made his operatic debut in a leading role as Alfredo in La Traviata at Monterrey. The performance of La Traviata included a baritone singing in Hungarian, a soprano in German, a tenor in Italian, and the chorus in Hebrew. Domingo credits this cosmopolitan group for improving his abilities in several languages. At the end of 1962, he signed a six month contract with the Israel National Opera in Tel Aviv but later extended the contract and stayed for two and a half years, singing in 280 performances and incorporating 12 different roles. Domingo has sung and continues to sing in every important Opera House in the world including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Milan’s La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, London's Covent Garden, Paris' Bastille Opera, the San Francisco Opera, Chicago's Lyric Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, the Real in Madrid, and at the Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals. Being constantly challenged by new roles - in six different languages - he has made an unparalleled amount of recordings, of which 101 are full-length operas, and often recording the same role more than once. For these he has earned nine Grammys and two Grammys in the newly established Latin Division.

Successful as singer, conductor and administrator

Plácido Domingo’s worldwide career as a great singer and conductor is legendary. By now he has sung 130 different roles, including almost all important parts of Italian and French operas, more than any other tenor in the annals of music. His repertoire spans the gamut from Mozart to Verdi, from Berlioz to Puccini, from Wagner to Ginastera. Furthermore, Domingo showed his talent as a wonderful singer and passionate actor in performances with Birgit Nilsson. Nilsson and Domingo first sang together in New York at the Metropolitan Opera on February 15, 1969 in a matinee production of Tosca. That same year in July at the Arena di Verona, with an audience of over 22,000 opera goers, Birgit and Plácido sang their first “Turandot”. Once again, Ms. Nilsson was impressed by the young tenor in his first performance as Calaf. As a conductor in the classical field of opera and concerts he has led performances in all the important theatres. He has also conducted purely symphonic concerts with such renowned orchestras as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, while also making recordings as a conductor. Moreover, Domingo was the music director of the Seville World’s Expo Fair and invited in this capacity the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, to Seville, Spain. He is today the General Director of both the Washington National Opera and of the Los Angeles Opera.

Encouraging and supporting the gift of young artists

Domingo's interest in helping young singers is emphasized by his yearly competition "Operalia” which so far has taken place all over the world. It remains the biggest similar talent competition in the international scene. “Operalia” has launched the international careers of many singers, not only through its prizes but because of Domingo's continued interest in furthering their careers. Also in the past five years, both the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program of the Washington National Opera and the Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Program of the Los Angeles Opera were inaugurated. Not only are his accomplishments as a creator of young artist programmes and competitions remarkable, but he also has philanthropic endeavours. After the big earthquake on September 19, 1985, he hosted several benefit concerts for the victims and released an album recorded at one of the events. Plácido Domingo – a short biography [PDF] Further information on

Honors & Awards

1971 G. Verdi, Aida, Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording
1973 G. Puccini, La Bohème, Principal soloist for Best Opera Recording
1983 G. Verdi, La Traviata, Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording
1984 G. Bizet, Carmen, Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording
1984 Always in my Heart (Siempre en mi Corazon)
1988 R. Wagner, Lohengrin, Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording
1990 Carreras Domingo Pavarotti in Concert, Best Classical Vocal Performance
1992 R. Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Principal Soloist for Best Opera Recording
2000 100 years of Mariachi, Best Mexican-American Performance
2000 T. Breton: La Dolores, Best Classical Album
2001 I. Albéniz, Merlin, Best Classical Album


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