Famed singer ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment

Domingo’s be­hav­ior has long been an open se­cret, ac­cusers and oth­ers say

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By JO­CE­LYN GECKER

For decades Plá­cido Domingo, one of the most cel­e­brated and pow­er­ful men in opera, has tried to pres­sure women into sex­ual re­la­tion­ships by dan­gling jobs and then some­times pun­ish­ing the women pro­fes­sion­ally when they re­fused his ad­vances, nu­mer­ous ac­cusers told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Re­garded as one of the great­est opera singers of all time, Domingo also is a pro­lific con­duc­tor and the di­rec­tor of the Los An­ge­les Opera. The mul­ti­ple Grammy win­ner is an im­mensely re­spected fig­ure in his rar­efied world, de­scribed by col­leagues as a man of prodi­gious charm and en­ergy who works tire­lessly to pro­mote his art form.

At 78, Domingo still at­tracts sell­out crowds around the globe and con­tin­ues adding to the 150 roles he has sung in 4,000­plus per­for­mances, more than any opera singer in his­tory.

But his ac­cusers and oth­ers in the in­dus­try say there is a trou­bling side to Domingo — one they say has long been an open se­cret in the opera world.

Eight singers and a dancer have told the AP they were sex­u­ally ha­rassed by the long­mar­ried, Span­ish­born su­per­star in en­coun­ters that

took place over three decades be­gin­ning in the late 1980s, at venues that in­clude opera com­pa­nies where he held top man­age­rial po­si­tions.

One ac­cuser said Domingo stuck his hand down her skirt and three oth­ers said he forced wet kisses on their lips — in a dress­ing room, a ho­tel room and at a lunch meet­ing.

“A busi­ness lunch is not strange,” said one of the singers. “Some­body try­ing to hold your hand dur­ing a busi­ness lunch is strange — or putting their hand on your knee is a lit­tle strange. He was al­ways touch­ing you in some way, and al­ways kiss­ing you.”

In ad­di­tion to the nine ac­cusers, half a dozen other women told the AP that sug­ges­tive over­tures by Domingo made them un­com­fort­able, in­clud­ing one singer who said he re­peat­edly asked her out on dates af­ter hir­ing her to sing a se­ries of con­certs with him in the 1990s.

The AP also spoke to al­most three dozen other singers, dancers, or­ches­tra mu­si­cians, mem­bers of back­stage staff, voice teach­ers and an ad­min­is­tra­tor who said that they wit­nessed in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­u­ally tinged be­hav­ior by Domingo and that he pur­sued younger women with im­punity.

Domingo did not re­spond to de­tailed ques­tions from the AP about spe­cific in­ci­dents, but he is­sued a state­ment say­ing: “The al­le­ga­tions from th­ese un­named in­di­vid­u­als dat­ing back as many as thirty years are deeply trou­bling, and as pre­sented, in­ac­cu­rate.

“Still, 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 50­year ca­reer in opera and will hold my­self to the high­est stan­dards.”

On Tues­day, the LA Opera, where Domingo has served as gen­eral di­rec­tor since 2003, said it would hire out­side coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions against the star. And the Philadelph­ia Or­ches­tra re­scinded an in­vi­ta­tion for him to ap­pear at its open­ing night con­cert next month.

Domingo’s next con­cert is sched­uled for Aug. 31 at the Salzburg Festival, which said Tues­day that he would ap­pear as planned.

New York’s Metropoli­tan Opera said it would await the re­sults of the L.A. com­pany’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore mak­ing any “fi­nal de­ci­sions” about Domingo’s fu­ture at the Met, where he is sched­uled to ap­pear next month.

Seven of Domingo’s nine ac­cusers told the AP they feel their ca­reers were ad­versely im­pacted af­ter re­ject­ing his ad­vances, with some say­ing roles he promised never ma­te­ri­al­ized and sev­eral not­ing that while they went on to work with other com­pa­nies, they were never hired to work with him again.

Only one of the nine women would al­low her name to be used — Pa­tri­cia Wulf, a mez­zoso­prano who sang with Domingo at the Wash­ing­ton Opera. The oth­ers re­quested anonymity, say­ing they ei­ther still work in the busi­ness and feared reprisals or wor­ried they might be pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated and even ha­rassed.

The ac­cusers’ sto­ries lay out strik­ingly sim­i­lar pat­terns of be­hav­ior that in­clude Domingo per­sis­tently con­tact­ing them — of­ten calling them re­peat­edly at home late at night — ex­press­ing in­ter­est in their ca­reers and urg­ing them to meet him pri­vately for a drink or a meal, or at his apart­ment or ho­tel room, un­der the guise of of­fer­ing pro­fes­sional ad­vice.

None of the women could of­fer doc­u­men­ta­tion, such as phone mes­sages, but the AP spoke to many col­leagues and friends who they con­fided in. In ad­di­tion, the AP in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied that the women worked where they said they did and that Domingo over­lapped with them at those lo­ca­tions.

The AP has with­held cer­tain de­tails in cases where it could lead to iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ac­cuser.

Two of the women said they briefly gave in to Domingo’s ad­vances, feel­ing they couldn’t risk jeop­ar­diz­ing their ca­reers by say­ing no to the most pow­er­ful man in their pro­fes­sion.

One said she had sex with him twice, in­clud­ing at the Bilt­more ho­tel in Los An­ge­les. When Domingo left for a per­for­mance, the woman said, he put $10 on the dresser, say­ing, “I don’t want you to feel like a pros­ti­tute, but I also don’t want you to have to pay to park.”

Many of the ac­cusers said they were warned re­peat­edly by col­leagues to never be alone with Domingo, even in an el­e­va­tor. If they did join him for a meal, they said they were told to avoid al­co­hol and meet at a pub­lic place — for lunch, not din­ner.

Many of those who spoke did so re­luc­tantly, fear­ing ret­ri­bu­tion but also not want­ing to in­flict col­lat­eral dam­age on the in­dus­try it­self.

But ul­ti­mately, those who talked to the AP said they felt em­bold­ened by the #Metoo move­ment and de­cided the most ef­fec­tive way to at­tack the en­trenched sex­ual mis­con­duct in their in­dus­try was to call out the be­hav­ior of opera’s most prom­i­nent fig­ure.

Ber­nat Ar­mangue/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Nu­mer­ous women told the AP they were sex­u­ally ha­rassed by Plá­cido Domingo.

Pho­tos by Jacque­lyn Martin/the As­so­ci­ated Press

When Pa­tri­cia Wulf got hired to do solo roles at the Wash­ing­ton Opera, where Plá­cido Domingo was artis­tic di­rec­tor and later gen­eral di­rec­tor, it seemed like the ex­pe­ri­ence of a lifetime, she said, but it quickly be­came a night­mare.

Wulf holds a 1998 photo of her­self with Domingo and her 4­year­old daugh­ter. She hopes she can help other women “be strong enough to say no” to men in po­si­tions of power.

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