Placido Domingo, one of opera's most popular superstars, went back to his roots late Friday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the now defunct New York company that launched his career.
Since its first performance in 1944 New York City Opera launched the careers of thousands of singers — none more glittering than that of the Spanish tenor — and pioneered a unique platform for American opera.
It was affectionately dubbed the "People's Opera" for its commitment to staging affordable productions and reaching a wide audience. Legions of fans wept when it was forced to close for lack of funds in October.
But seven decades to the day since its first performance, the chorus, orchestra and company stars reunited Friday in its original neo-Moorish home, the New York City Center, to fete its legacy.
And bringing a hefty dose of star power was the 73-year-old Domingo, who has thrilled the world with a career lasting for more than half a century.
He mesmerized the audience with his performance of "Nemico della Patria" from Umberto Giordano's "Andrea Chenier," and transformed the orchestra by conducting the overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino."
Praised by Newsweek as "the King of Opera" and still ravishingly handsome, Domingo left the hall ringing with rapturous applause. Female violinists blushed as he delivered a liberal dose of hand kissing.
It was an astonishing act of generosity from a man who otherwise commands eye-watering fees, and a shot in the arm for City Opera luminaries who say talks are underway to revive the company.
"There are people out there who want to see this flame kept alive and they want to see the phoenix rise," Cori Ellison, former City Opera dramaturg, told AFP.
"There have begun to be some concrete conversations. It's far from a done deal but I will say at this point it's more than just people saying 'oh we wish City Opera would come back,'" she added.
Domingo made his New York debut in a City production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" in 1965. He was an understudy at the time who stepped in at the last moment when a colleague fell sick.
A year later he launched his international career by performing the title role in the US premiere of Ginastera's "Don Rodrigo" at City Opera's new home at the Lincoln Center.
Domingo has called for the company's revival, praising its "indispensable role in the cultural life of New York City".
Friday's concert gave fans tears, cheers and laughter, and a chance to hear much loved arias in the company's repertoire from "Malcolm X" to "The Marriage of Figaro."
Domingo was joined among others by sopranos Lauren Flanigan and Amy Burton, and mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Rivera and a very pregnant Heather Johnson performing "Habanera" from Bizet's opera "Carmen."
Ellison said the performance offered hope for the future.
"All of us are here doing this focused not on the demise of the company at all but on the spirit of the company, the influence of the company, the wonderful achievements of the company," she said.
"New York City Opera is a living organism. It's not a dead thing."
Johnson told AFP she learned her craft at the City Opera and said it had been "excruciating" to watch its demise.
"A night like tonight is great because in a way it sort of erases all of that yucky negativity," she said.
"It's bringing together this nuclear family to celebrate this incredible arts institution that is unfortunately, the way I like to say it, on hiatus."
The company suffered from financial difficulties for years before it was forced to close, unable to raise more than $2 million from a $7 million appeal needed to stave off bankruptcy.
Friday's concert raised money for The New York City Musicians' Emergency Relief Fund, a charity that helps musicians in need and whose board members include Bob Dylan.