LONDON - It's not often that Placido Domingo is upstaged at the Royal Opera House.
Yet flamboyant London Mayor Boris Johnson managed to pull it off at a star-studded Olympic gala on Monday night.
Opera stars Domingo, Renee Fleming and Bryn Terfel were the headline performers at the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee session at the famous venue in Covent Garden.
But it was Johnson who brought the house down with his bombastic recital — in ancient Greek — of a Pindaric Ode for the London Games. After the Greek version, he paused and said "which roughly translates as" before reading out the ode in English. It included word plays on the names of Olympic champions, including the "lighting bolt around the track."
Pindar was an ancient Greek lyric poet famous for his victory odes.
Johnson, who studied classics at Oxford, commissioned the poem for the games. It was written by Oxford academic Armand D'Angour and consists of six verses in rhyming couplets.
Johnson received a huge round of cheers, applause and whistles from the packed theatre, a bigger ovation than that received later for Domingo and Terfel's duet performance of Bellini's final opera and Fleming's Puccini aria.
Earlier, Princess Anne read out a welcome message to the IOC delegates from her mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The IOC board members attended a reception hosted by the queen a few hours earlier at Buckingham Palace.
Anne, who is an IOC member and president of the British Olympic Association, invoked the memory of an Olympic-style event that first took take place in a Cotswolds village four centuries ago.
"It will be exactly 400 years since Robert Dover invented the first 'Olympic Games' in Chipping Campden, which honoured the ancient Games in Greece," she said. "Unlikely but true."
Anne competed in equestrian at the 1976 Montreal Games. Her daughter, Zara Phillips, will be competing in London for Britain's eventing team.
IOC President Jacques Rogge paid tribute to London as the first city to host the Olympics for a third time, after previous games in 1908 and 1948. He cited Britain as the "birthplace of modern sport" and the idea of fair play.
"I am confident the games will capture the spirit of this great cosmopolitan city," Rogge said. "I am confident that these games will leave a lasting positive legacy for London and the country."
Sebastian Coe, head of the London organizing committee, predicted "sellout crowds bursting with colour."
"The city is ready," he said. "The venues are ready. Soon the athletes will be ready."
The IOC will hold three days of meetings beginning Tuesday, hearing progress reports from Coe and his team, as well as organizers of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.