Opera’s Domingo starts U.S. performances amid allegations

NEW YORK — When opera superstar Placido Domingo appeared in Europe last month after being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, his performances were greeted with rapturous ovations.

This week, the spotlight moves to the U.S., where Domingo faces two investigations into his behaviour and is scheduled to help kick off the new season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Companies in three other American cities have cancelled his performances due to the allegations.

Wednesday’s appearance in “Macbeth” marks the legendary tenor’s first performance in the U.S. since the publication of two Associated Press stories in which numerous women said he sexually harassed them or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour, including one soprano who said he grabbed her bare breast under her robe.

Domingo has called the allegations “in many ways, simply incorrect,” without providing any specifics.

Domingo is general director of LA Opera, which has engaged outside counsel to conduct its investigation. He also is being investigated by the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing many opera employees.

The Met has said it will wait for the results of the LA Opera investigation before deciding on any action against Domingo, who is scheduled to perform at the storied opera house seven times this season.

The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, held a one-hour meeting with chorus singers and orchestra musicians after a dress rehearsal Saturday to discuss the Mets’ position on the allegations.

In characterizing the meeting, Gelb said, “I said we took the allegations very seriously. For some people, allegations are enough to warrant actions, but the Met as an institution does not believe it can take action until there is corroborated evidence, which has so far not been the case.”

Gelb said he also noted the Met was closely monitoring the two investigations and “we are prepared to take action when action is merited.”

One musician who attended the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation described the session as heated and often emotional.

Some staff members were visibly emotional as they challenged Gelb, the musician said, with at least one telling him, “This is exactly why women don’t come forward.” But one female chorus member spoke up in support of the Met’s position, the musician noted.

Several attendees complained the Met was being inconsistent, referring to the 2018 firing of its famed conductor, James Levine, amid accusations that he had sexually abused several men when they were teenagers. The company initially suspended Levine in 2017 after the allegations surfaced and then severed ties with him after conducting its own investigation.

Domingo was not at the staff meeting, but did participate in a previously scheduled sexual harassment seminar last week with fellow cast members, according to a Met staff member with direct knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reasons.

The AGMA launched its own investigation after saying it couldn’t be certain that opera companies would thoroughly investigate the allegations or make their findings public.

The union’s national executive director, Len Egert, told the AP that AGMA hopes its inquiry can be wrapped up “in a couple of months.”

He said he could not provide details, but indicated the union also is taking on board the wider problem of misconduct across the industry and the fear of retaliation by men in positions of power.

“In addition to what we have done so far, AGMA will continue to search for and implement methods to change the culture,” he said.

Domingo is scheduled to appear in three performances of “Macbeth,” two of them opposite the soprano Anna Netrebko, and then return to the Met for four performances of “Madame Butterfly” in November.

Outside the Met, Domingo’s next scheduled U.S. performance is not until February, with LA Opera, which has not said how long it expects its investigation to last.

Three major American companies — the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera and Dallas Opera — cancelled upcoming concerts starring Domingo after the AP stories were published.

None of Domingo’s upcoming performances in Europe have been cancelled he has a busy fall lineup of operas and concerts in Switzerland, Russia, Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland.

The most serious allegation against Domingo comes from soprano Angela Turner Wilson, now a voice teacher in the Dallas area, who said he forcefully grabbed her breast in a makeup room during a run at the Washington Opera in 1999.

The Washington Opera issued statements saying it has “zero tolerance” for harassment but did not receive any “documented complaints” about Domingo’s behaviour during his 15 years as artistic director and general director of the company. It has declined to comment on whether it plans any investigation.

During its inquiry, the LA Opera — which Domingo helped found in the 1980s, and where several accusations of sexual misconduct occurred — has removed Domingo from day-to-day operations as general director, a post he has held since 2003.

The investigation is being led by Debra Wong Yang, a former U.S. attorney and Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, now a partner at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

In a statement emailed to the AP, a committee of LA Opera board members urged anyone with relevant information to contact Gibson Dunn and provide statements on the record, adding that, if requested, they “will take reasonable efforts to keep the individual’s identity as confidential as possible.”

The committee added that the LA Opera “strictly prohibits retaliation of any kind against anyone participating in this investigation in good faith.”

The union also has said it will allow participants to remain anonymous if they request it.

Sexual harassment experts say allowing confidential reports is crucial to a thorough investigation because of the fear of retaliation in an insular industry like opera.

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