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Released March 7, 2005



HATTIESBURG – So, exactly how do you go about booking one of the most recognized singers in the world? When you're dealing with the Michael Jordan of the music world (or is Michael Jordan the Placido Domingo of the basketball world?), it's not as simple as a routine phone call.

When The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra hosts Placido Domingo April 2 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, it will culminate seven years of planning, prodding, and sometimes -- as conductor Dr. Jay Dean will admit -- pleading.

Without a doubt, Dean's bid to bring Domingo to Southern Miss has been a long and winding road. With 11 Grammy awards to his credit, Domingo is one of the most heralded tenors in history, and his touring schedule would make even Lance Armstrong wince.

For the last 45 years, since he was 16 years old, Domingo has never stopped performing and traveling. He has performed in ever major opera house in the world and has produced more than 100 recordings

It's little wonder friends of the pugnacious conductor giggled politely when he first mentioned his intention of bringing Domingo to South Mississippi, not usually considered an operatic hotbed.

Dean said, "I started working on bringing him to Mississippi back in 1998, so by the time he comes we will have been working on it for seven years. For at least four of the years, the response was basically, 'No.'"

The idea first came to Dean when he was working with the Majesty of Spain exhibition in Jackson in the '90s.

"I thought, 'Who's the biggest performer from Spain we could bring in?' and the answer, of course, was Placido Domingo, who's from Madrid. He's the No. 1 performer in the world, period," Dean said.

"We wanted to bring him then, but the answer then was, 'No, no, no.' When the Majesty of Spain exhibit came and went, I thought, 'There went our opportunity.'"

Although the "stars weren't aligned at that point," Dean said he was not about to give up so easily.

Because he'd had success landing other celebrity performers, such as violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Dean assumed with the proper persuasion, he could convince Domingo's agent to book his superstar client with Southern Miss. But as Dean knew full well, the mere dropping of names would do no good where Domingo was concerned: Comparing the world's most famous tenor to the aforementioned luminaries is like comparing apples to octaves.

"In Domingo's world, these other performers--Yo-Yo Ma and Perlman--while they are great and he has ample respect for them, they are minor players," Dean said.

Undaunted, Dean flew to New York City. Turning on his Southern charm, Dean met with Domingo's agent, and the two soon discovered they had mutual friends in the business. About two hours after the meeting, Dean got the phone call he'd been dreaming of. "His agent called and said he had a few dates available."

With Domingo on board, Dean had to secure a sponsorship, which took another six months. "We approached the Beau Rivage because we felt they would be an able partner in producing such a world-class event. Also, we wanted to present this concert in a large venue, so more people would have a chance to see this wonderful performer," Dean said.

The goals of the event are twofold, according to Dean. In addition to presenting a world-class musical experience, Southern Miss hopes to create another endowment for the USM Foundation.

"If we sell out (the concert), we will raise a substantial amount of money to create a new endowment that will be from the Beau Rivage. That money would be used for scholarships and other musical necessities," he said.

Ticket sales for the Domingo concert have been brisk, and Dean expects things to heat up even more as the event gets closer. Marketed heavily from Texas to Florida, the event will also draw opera lovers from the rest of the country.

Dean said he knows of patrons who will be flying in from as far away as Las Vegas and New Mexico. "We'll have people from at least 10 different states attending this event. We're the only university in the world producing something like this. It's the concert event of a lifetime."

For ticket information, call (601) 261-1310.


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April 8, 2005 2:53 PM