The glittering production was a high point of the Washington Opera’s 1999-2000 season: Jules Massenet’s ‘Le Cid’, about a legendary Spanish conqueror, starring a tenor legendary in his own right — Placido Domingo, then the company’s artistic director.
The opera, also being filmed for broadcast on public television, was unquestionably a career break for a 28-year-old singer named Angela Turner Wilson, who had been cast as the second female lead and was singled out for praise in reviews. “I knew this was the start of big things for me,” she says now.
But one evening before a performance, she said, she and Domingo were having their make-up done together when he rose from his chair, stood behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. As she looked at him in the mirror, he suddenly slipped his hands under her bra straps, she said, then reached down into her robe and grabbed her bare breast.
“It hurt,” she said “It was not gentle. He groped me hard.”
She said Domingo then turned and walked away, leaving her stunned and humiliated.
Wilson, now 48 and a college voice teacher in the Dallas area, was one of 11 women to come forward after an August 13 AP story in which numerous women accused the long-married, Spanish-born superstar of sexual harassment or inappropriate, sexually charged behaviour and of sometimes damaging their careers if they rejected him.
In the weeks since that story was published, the women have shared new stories about encounters with Domingo, currently the general director of Los Angeles Opera, that they said included unwanted touching, persistent requests for private get-togethers, late-night phone calls and sudden attempts to kiss them on the lips.
Several additional backstage employees described for the AP how they strove to shield young women from the star as administrators looked the other way.
Taken together, their stories reinforce a picture of an industry in which Domingo’s behaviour was an open secret and young women were left to fend for themselves in the workplace.
Domingo’s spokeswoman issued a statement disputing the allegations but provided no specifics.
“The ongoing campaign by the AP to denigrate Placido Domingo is not only inaccurate but unethical. These new claims are riddled with inconsistencies and, as with the first story, in many ways, simply incorrect,” spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer said. “Due to an ongoing investigation, we will not comment on specifics, but we strongly dispute the misleading picture that the AP is attempting to paint of Mr Domingo.”
Wilson said she was spurred to come forward after the 78-year-old Domingo’s reaction to the AP’s initial story, in which he said he believed his actions “were always welcomed and consensual” and added that “the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”
Wilson rejects the idea that such behaviour has ever been acceptable.
“What woman would ever want him to grab their breast? And it hurt,” she said. “Then I had to go on stage and act like I was in love with him.”
Melinda McLain, who was the production coordinator at LA Opera for its inaugural season in 1986-87 and also worked at the Houston Grand Opera with Domingo, told the AP she made it a point not to put Domingo in rehearsal rooms alone with young female singers, even if he specifically requested it, and also tried to supply him with male dressers.
“We created these elaborate schemes for keeping him away from particular singers,” McLain said. “I never would have sent any woman of any sort into his dressing room.”
McLain said another strategy was to invite Domingo’s wife, Marta, to attend company parties “because if Marta was around, he behaves.”
Several people who have worked in the costume department of the LA Opera, where Domingo has served in various capacities since the 1980s, said his backstage behaviour was common knowledge and that management had been aware of it for years. One employee said her colleagues tried to steer clear of sending women into fittings with Domingo as recently as the 2016-2017 season.
“I was told by my direct boss that they avoided sending any sort of attractive young woman into a fitting with him because of his behaviour,” said one employee who requested anonymity because she is still in the opera industry and fears repercussions. She said Domingo was known for “getting too close, hugging, kissing, touching and being physically affectionate.”
Another costume employee described narrowly avoiding a wet kiss on the lips from Domingo by turning her head at the last minute so it landed on the side of her mouth. She said she reported it to a supervisor who told her to avoid being alone with Domingo.
Several requested anonymity because they still work in the industry and said they feared recriminations in a world long dominated by Domingo and other powerful men.