Eight opera singers and a dancer told The Associated Press they were sexually harassed by Placido Domingo, one of the most celebrated and powerful men in opera. (Bernat Armangue/Associated Press)
For decades, Placido 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 women 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.
But the women accusing him and others in the industry say there is a troubling side to the 78-year-old — one they say has long been an open secret in the opera world.
Eight singers and a dancer have told AP they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born superstar over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions.
One woman 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 complainants, a half-dozen other women told 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.
AP also spoke to almost three dozen other singers, dancers, orchestra musicians, backstage staff, voice teachers and administrators who said they witnessed inappropriate sexually tinged behaviour by Domingo and he pursued younger women with impunity.
The women say the encounters with Domingo, pictured here in 2006, took place over three decades at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions. (Luca Bruno/Associated Press)
Domingo did not respond to detailed questions about specific incidents, but issued a statement saying: “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as 30 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 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards.”
Emboldened by #MeToo to come forward
The women — who said they were emboldened to speak out by the #MeToo movement — were mostly young and starting their careers at the time.
Several said they took extreme measures to avoid Domingo, including asking colleagues to stick with them while at work and not answering their home phones. The dancer called her avoidance technique “the bob and weave, the giggle and get out,” and one soprano labelled it “walking the tightrope.”
Seven of the nine complainants told AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after they rejected Domingo’s 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 mezzo-soprano who sang with Domingo at the Washington Opera. The others requested anonymity, saying they either still work in the business and fear reprisals or are worried they might be publicly humiliated or even harassed.
Retired opera singer Patricia Wulf, one of nine women who told AP they were sexually harassed by Domingo, says she is ‘relieved to finally come out’ about Domingo’s alleged behaviour. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
The accusers’ stories lay out strikingly similar patterns of behaviour that included 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 under the guise of offering professional advice.
None of the women could offer documentation, such as phone messages, but AP spoke to many colleagues and friends that they confided in. In addition, AP independently verified the women worked where they said they did and Domingo overlapped with them at those locations.
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 of them 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.”
‘Did I just ruin my career?’
At the Washington Opera, where Domingo served as artistic and then general director for 15 years, Wulf said, the star would confront her night after night with the same whispered question.
“Every time I would walk off stage, he would be in the wings waiting for me,” she said. “He would come right up to me, as close as could be, put his face right in my face, lower his voice and say, ‘Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?”‘
She said she regularly would rebuff him, but his pursuit remained relentless.
It got to a point, Wulf said, that she would try to hide from Domingo behind a pillar. She also would hide in her dressing room and peek to make sure he was not in the hallway before she left, she said.
‘Every time I would walk off stage, he would be in the wings waiting for me,’ says Wulf, holding pictures of herself in costume for her role in The Magic Flute in 1998 at the Washington Opera. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
“As soon as you walk away and get away, you think, ‘Did I just ruin my career?’ And that went on through that entire production.”
A dancer who worked with the superstar in several cities said a flirtatious Domingo called her late at night on and off for about a decade in the 1990s, leaving brazen messages she would listen to in shock with her husband.
Domingo would ask her to meet him, including in his hotel room, but she said she would only go to lunch with him, always framed as a business meal. Still, she said, his hands would wander to her knee or he would hold her hand or kiss her cheek in ways that made her uncomfortable.
She said she would wonder to her husband: “‘Does he understand the risk he’s putting me in, that he could wreck my marriage, wreck my career?’
“When you’re working for the most powerful man in the opera, you try to play ball.”
Domingo did not respond to detailed questions from AP about specific incidents, but issued a statement saying ‘people who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone.’ (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via Associated Press)
One afternoon when they were working together at the Washington Opera, she said, Domingo asked her to meet for lunch at his hotel restaurant to discuss work. After the meal, he said he needed to stop at his room before they walked to a rehearsal.
“He took me up to his room, ostensibly to pick up his stuff, and he invites me in. And he starts hugging me and kissing me.”
She pushed him away, she said, and insisted she had to get to rehearsal.
“When I clearly was not going to have sex with him, he just walked me to the elevator and went back to his room. The elevator doors opened, and I dropped. I just fell to the floor in the elevator and was sweating profusely.”
A former opera administrator said he was aware for years that Domingo was “constantly chasing” the dancer. And a conductor who is friends with the dancer said he recalled after she “said no to Domingo, she had the rug pulled out for several years.”
After the hotel incident, the dancer said, she didn’t work with the superstar for several years.
“There were years when I was a wreck about it and scared that I’d never be hired again.”
Eventually, she said, she was “let back into his good graces.
“What he did is wrong,” she said. “He used his power, he stalked women, he put women in positions of vulnerability. People have dropped out of the business and been just erased because of submitting or not submitting to him.”