Placido Domingo breaks into song in Turlock

TURLOCK — Plácido Domingo, the greatest opera singer in modern times, delighted a CSU, Stanislaus, audience Monday morning with an impromptu performance after he accepted an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from the university.

After first saying he couldn't sing because it was too early in the day, he changed his mind while listening to piano professor Stephen Thomas play one of his favorite arias, Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz." Domingo couldn't help himself and sang a few bars, getting a standing ovation from the nearly full house in the 312-seat Snider Music Recital Hall.

"I'm very proud to be able to take a doctoral degree when I am still an acting singer," said Domingo, who is starring in the San Francisco Opera's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

Attendees included faculty members in academic regalia, music students and staff. Some stayed afterward to have their photos taken with the friendly tenor.

"This is one of the most exciting moments in the history of California State University, Stanislaus," said university President Hamid Shirvani.

Born in Spain and raised in Mexico since age 8, Domingo, 69, has performed in every major opera house in the world, including New York City's Metropolitan Opera and Milan's La Scala. Eight of his records have gone gold, selling more than 1 million copies. As one of the Three Tenors — with José Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti — he was a crossover sensation, with sellout concerts and best-selling records.

Domingo has raised millions of dollars through benefit concerts on behalf of the victims of the 1985 Mexican earthquake, AIDS, the Armenian earthquake, the Acapulco mudslides. and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

He came to CSU, Stanislaus, at the invitation of Shirvani, who considers him a "dear friend."

CSU awards honorary degrees to people who distinguish themselves in their career and in community service, said Melinda Guzman, a member of the CSU board of trustees, who participated in the ceremony.

Domingo said he appreciates the work CSUS, is doing teaching fine arts, music and voice.

"I want to thank you deeply," Domingo said. "This is a great honor for me to receive this degree."

Domingo said he dreams of bringing opera to a wider audience. He believes there are two reasons people don't go to opera — they don't know about it or they can't afford it.

He would love an architect to design a building with good acoustics that could seat 5,000 to 6,000, allowing for some cheaper ticket prices.

Domingo ate lunch with students and faculty after the ceremony but said he regretted that he did not have more time to perform a full concert or work with the students. He promised to return another time and do both.

During the ceremony, he said he has a passion for helping young singers and wants to help ease the way for the best to become professionals. He is proud of his longtime "Operalia" singing contest.

Domingo told the students to use their time wisely, to concentrate on their studies and to have a good time.

"The only way to succeed in your life is total dedication, total passion and total love for what you're doing," he said.

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