Opera star Placido Domingo resigned as general director of the Los Angeles Opera and withdrew from all future performances, following multiple allegations from women who say the legendary tenor sexually harassed them there and at opera companies around the country over a period of decades.
Domingo’s departure from LA Opera raises questions about his future career in the United States, where he has been removed or has stepped down from all scheduled appearances since the allegations were first reported.
More than 20 women who accused Domingo of sexual harassment or other inappropriate, sexually charged conduct. Many said Domingo tried to pressure them into sexual relationships and sometimes punished them professionally if they rejected him. All said they feared reporting him because of his power to make or break their careers, and that his behaviour was an open secret in the opera world.
The accusers’ stories laid 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 at his apartment or a hotel room, or for a drink or meal, under the guise of offering professional advice. Several women said they took extreme measures to avoid Domingo, hiding from him in dressing rooms, not answering their phones or asking male colleagues to walk them to their cars so they wouldn’t be alone.
In a statement, Domingo said that his ability to continue at LA Opera was “compromised” by the accusations against him.
“I hold Los Angeles Opera very dearly to my heart and count my work to create and build it as among my most important legacies,” said Domingo, 78, who helped found the company in the 1980s and is credited with raising its international profile.
“However, recent accusations that have been made against me in the press have created an atmosphere in which my ability to serve this company that I so love has been compromised,” Domingo said, adding that he would continue to work to clear his name but decided “it is in the best interests of LA Opera for me to resign as general director and withdraw from my future scheduled performances at this time.”
Domingo had been scheduled to headline six performances of ‘Roberto Devereux’ in February and March.
The resignation comes a week after the Metropolitan Opera’s bombshell announcement that Domingo would not be taking the stage in the season premiere of ‘Macbeth’ and possibly ever again. Three other companies — the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Opera and Dallas Opera — had already removed Domingo from upcoming performances.
One singer, Angela Turner Wilson, said that Domingo reached into her robe and forcefully grabbed her breast in a make-up room during a 1999 production at the Washington Opera. Another singer said when she worked with Domingo at LA Opera in the mid-2000s, he stuck his hand down her skirt after asking her to sing for him at his apartment. Others said he forced wet kisses on their lips.
Debra Katz, an attorney for mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf, who told AP that Domingo made repeated, unwanted propositions to her when they sang in Washington, said in a statement the singer’s resignation from LA Opera was “an important and welcome step in the effort to end sexual misconduct by powerful men in the opera industry.”
Wulf and other accusers have said they spoke up because they felt shining a light on Domingo’s behaviour could help stop misconduct across the industry.
“I feel at peace knowing that speaking publicly is leading to changes that will hopefully protect the next generation of women in the industry,” Wulf said Wednesday.
Domingo has denied any wrongdoing. He has called the claims “in many ways, simply incorrect,” but has not elaborated or addressed any of the accusations directly.
For years, Domingo has been the opera world’s most bankable star, with the celebrity power to fill seats in an era of dwindling ticket sales. Over time, he also widened his portfolio, becoming a prolific conductor and powerful administrator as the general director of two major American companies, first at Washington Opera and later at LA Opera, where he served as an artistic consultant from 1984 to 2000, artistic director from 2000 to 2003 and, finally, general director from 2003 until now. His current contract ran through the 2021-22 season.
Christopher Koelsch, the LA Opera’s president and chief executive, thanked Domingo for “his integral role in the creation of our company and his decades of service,” in an email sent to LA Opera staff on Wednesday.
He noted that an independent investigation that LA Opera launched into Domingo’s alleged misconduct would “continue until its resolution.”
LA Opera had removed Domingo from day-to-day operations as general director after the allegations were published. It has not given a time frame for the investigation, which is being led by Debra Wong Yang, a former US attorney and Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, now a partner at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
“This has been a painful and challenging period for all of us,” Koelsch wrote in the email. “But it is also engendering difficult, and productive, conversations that I believe will ultimately prove critical in strengthening and improving the company.”
“LA opera knows we must take further steps to guarantee we are doing everything we can to foster a professional and collaborative environment,” Koelsch wrote.
Domingo is also being investigated by the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing many opera employees. The union’s national executive director, Len Egert, said that investigation will also continue despite Domingo’s LA Opera resignation.
“Our internal investigation has never been just about allegations against one individual,” Egert said in an email, adding the union was committed to confronting “systemic failures” in the industry that may have allowed the alleged conduct to continue for decades. “We owe it to our members to continue our investigation.”
For at least the rest of the year, Domingo’s career will be centred in Europe, where the accusations of harassment have not hurt him professionally. He was greeted with ovations at concerts in August in Austria, shortly after the accusations emerged.
None of Domingo’s upcoming performances in Europe have been cancelled” he has a busy fall line-up of operas and concerts in Switzerland, Russia, Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland.