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LA Opera To Investigate Plácido Domingo After Sexual Harassment Report

Plácido Domingo, onstage at New York's Metropolitan Opera last year. Nine women have accused Domingo of trying to pressure them into a sexual relationship by offering them jobs.
Angela Weiss
AFP/Getty Images
Plácido Domingo, onstage at New York's Metropolitan Opera last year. Nine women have accused Domingo of trying to pressure them into a sexual relationship by offering them jobs.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

Multiple women have come forward to The Associated Press to allege that Plácido Domingo, one of the world's most powerful and recognizable opera stars, sexually harassed them in a series of incidents over the course of some 30 years. In the immediate aftermath of the AP's report, the opera company that Domingo has led for more than 15 years, the LA Opera, announced that it is beginning an investigation into his conduct. By Tuesday afternoon, both the San Francisco Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra had rescinded upcoming performance invitations for Domingo.

In a report published Tuesday, the nine accusers, who include eight singers and a dancer, told the AP that beginning in the 1980s, Domingo tried to pressure them into sexual relationships by offering them jobs and opportunities in the insular and highly competitive world of opera. Several say that Domingo exacted career retribution against them when they refused him.

Born in Spain and raised largely in Mexico, Domingo enjoys one of the most durable and broad careers in opera. Most popularly, he was one of The Three Tenors, alongside the late Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras; the trio's first recording became the bestselling classical album of all time. At age 78, after decades of performing as a top tenor, Domingo works as the general director of the LA Opera in Los Angeles (where he has served in that role since 2003), runs a top global opera competition, conducts widely, and remains a major box-office draw at the world's greatest opera stages, now singing as a baritone.

On Tuesday afternoon, the LA Opera announced that it is hiring outside counsel to investigate the allegations. "We believe all employees and artists should be treated respectfully and feel safe and secure within their work environment," it said as part of a statement sent to NPR. "Plácido Domingo has been a dynamic creative force in the life of LA Opera and the artistic culture of Los Angeles for more than three decades. Nevertheless, we are committed to doing everything we can to foster a professional and collaborative environment where all our employees and artists feel equally comfortable, valued and respected."

As part of a lengthy statement provided to NPR, Domingo said: "The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate."

Seven of the accusers say that they suffered negative effects to their careers. According to the AP, some of the women say that "roles he promised never materialized" and several said that they were never hired to work with Domingo again.

New York's Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera are among the high-profile opera and classical music institutions that had engaged Domingo to perform in coming months.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera — which has engaged Domingo to sing Verdi's Macbeth in late September and early October as well as the role of Sharpless in Puccini's Madama Butterfly in November — released its own statement to NPR, saying that it will wait for the results of the LA Opera's investigation before taking further steps. "We take accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power with extreme seriousness. We will await the results of the investigation into Plácido Domingo's behavior as head of the Los Angeles Opera before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo's ultimate future at the Met. It should be noted that during his career at the Met as a guest artist, Mr. Domingo has never been in a position to influence casting decisions for anyone other than himself."

Later on Tuesday afternoon, the San Francisco Opera announced that it was canceling a concert with Domingo that had been scheduled for Oct. 6. "Though the alleged incidents reported did not take place at San Francisco Opera," the company said, it is "unable to present the artist on the War Memorial Opera House Stage. San Francisco Opera is committed to its strong anti-sexual harassment policy and requires all company members to adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct. San Francisco Opera places a great priority on creating a safe and secure environment where everyone can focus on their work and art, and in which colleagues are treated with respect, dignity and collegiality."

On Tuesday morning, the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that it had rescinded its invitation for Domingo to sing at its season-opening gala, saying: "The Philadelphia Orchestra Association has withdrawn its invitation to Plácido Domingo to appear as part of its opening night concert on Sept. 18, 2019. We are committed to providing a safe, supportive, respectful, and appropriate environment for the orchestra and staff, for collaborating artists and composers, and for our audiences and communities."

The AP reports that in addition to the nine accusers, it has spoken to six other women who say that Domingo made them feel "uncomfortable" in his pursuits of them and that it also spoke to "almost three dozen other singers, dancers, orchestra musicians, members of backstage staff, voice teachers and an administrator who said they witnessed inappropriate sexually tinged behavior by Domingo and that he pursued younger women with impunity."

One such woman who worked at the LA Opera told the AP that there was a whisper network about Domingo: "Avoid interaction with him at all costs. And definitely don't be alone with him." Women were warned not to be alone in an elevator with him.

According to the AP, Domingo exhibited very similar patterns of behavior with the women, including calling them persistently (often late at night), expressing interest in their burgeoning careers, and urging them to meet him at his apartment or hotel room "under the guise of offering professional advice." Two of the women say that they succumbed to his advances, "feeling that they couldn't risk jeopardizing their careers by saying no to the most powerful man in their profession."

One of the anonymous women told the AP that in the late 1990s, Domingo pressured her into going to his apartment near the LA Opera's home at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; she was 27 and married. She said that he undressed her, undressed himself, and that they had a session of "heavy petting" and "groping." She told the AP, "I was totally intimidated and felt like saying no to him would be saying no to God. How do you say no to God?"

Most of the women came forward to the AP anonymously; one, a former mezzo-soprano named Patricia Wulf, agreed to go public. Wulf sang with Domingo at the Washington National Opera, where he was the artistic director until 2011.

In a statement to NPR on Tuesday afternoon, Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter and WNO General Director Timothy O'Leary said:

"Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center have zero tolerance policies with regard to harassment, discrimination, or abuse of any kind, and we take allegations of this nature very seriously. The specific accusations reported today pre-date WNO's affiliation with the Kennedy Center in 2011 — and Mr. Domingo has not been engaged by WNO since the fall of 2011. Our goal always is to ensure that all of our artists and employees can work and thrive in an environment of safety, trust, support, creativity, and mutual respect."

They added: "The Kennedy Center did not receive any documented complaints about Mr. Domingo's behavior prior to WNO's affiliation with the Kennedy Center, and we have not received any since then."

In his statement to NPR, Domingo continued: "It is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone.

"However, I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.