The opera Don Giovanni is considered to be one of the finest ever composed. It’s based on a central theme of a love-’em-and-leave-’em gentleman rogue with a long history of jilted women and for who things are turning sour.
There could very well be a lesson for Placido Domingo.
In October 2017, the operatic legend realised a lifelong dream to conduct Don Giovanni in the same Prague theatre where it was premiered by its creator, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart back in 1787.
Domingo stands accused of pressuring women into sexual relationships by dangling jobs and then sometimes punishing the women professionally when they refused his advances.
An open secret in the opera world
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 sell-out crowds around the globe and continues adding to the 150 roles he has sung in 4,000-plus 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 said that they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born superstar in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included 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,” one accuser said. “He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you.”
In addition to the nine accusers, half-dozen other women say 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.
For his part, Domingo has said “the allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.”
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 Domingo to appear at its opening night concert next month.
Domingo’s next concert is scheduled for the end of the month at the Salzburg Festival, which said on Tuesday that he would appear as planned.
New York’s Metropolitan Opera said it would await the results of the LA company’s investigation before any “final decisions” about Domingo’s future at the Met, where he is scheduled to appear next month.
“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,” Domingo said. “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.”
But times have changed.
'The bob and weave, the giggle and get out'
“I recognise that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past,” the opera icon said. “I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards.”
The women making the accusations were mostly young and starting their careers at the time.
Several said they took extreme measures to avoid Domingo, including no longer using the ladies’ room near his office, asking other singers or backstage staff to stick with them while at work, and not answering their phones at home.
The dancer called her avoidance technique “the bob and weave, the giggle and get out,” and one soprano labelled it “walking the tightrope.”
Domingo was an artistic consultant at LA Opera in the 1980s when his stardom went mainstream. Newsweek magazine dubbed him The King of The Opera in a 1982 cover story and he appeared on popular television shows like Sesame Street, where a character, Placido Flamingo, was named for him. His collaboration in the Three Tenors, with the late Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras, produced the best-selling classical recording of all time.
— With inputs from agencies