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Report suggests Placido Domingo’s sexual impropriety was an ‘open secret’ in opera world

Placido Domingo has long been among the best-known names in opera. One of the Three Tenors, he currently conducts and directs the Los Angeles Opera. But a new Associated Press report reveals extensive accusations of sexual misconduct throughout his career, citing nine women who say Domingo pressured them into unwanted sexual contact. Amna Nawaz talks to The Washington Post’s Peggy McGlone.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    With more performances than any other opera singer in history, Placido Domingo holds a special place in the performing arts. Domingo is not just one of the most recognizable faces after a career that's lasted nearly five decades. He's also a leader and performer with real power. But in the wake of #MeToo, there are now a series of revelations by the "A.P." about his alleged personal behavior, allegations that raise disturbing questions about the use of that power.

    For decades, Placido Domingo has been one of the biggest names in opera. A multi-Grammy Award winner and one of the iconic Three Tenors, his star power and industry status are beyond compare. The 78-year-old Spaniard currently conducts and directs the Los Angeles Opera, and he still attracts sell-out crowds across the globe.

    But a new "Associated Press" report out today says that rise to fame was littered with sexual misconduct. The story cites nine women, eight singers and one dancer, who say Domingo harassed them and tried to pressure them into sexual relationships over 30 years, often at venues where he held a managerial position. All but one requested anonymity.

    Patricia Wulf sang at the Washington National Opera in the late 1990s and 2000s. Domingo was the artistic director there and later the general director.

  • Patricia Wulf:

    He would come up to me this close and he would say, Patricia, do you have to go home tonight? And it was arresting, it was very difficult.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Wulf said she started hiding from Domingo.

  • Patricia Wulf:

    I don't know how it could have been shoved under the rug as long as it has been. It's gone on long enough. It needs to stop.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The women's stories followed a pattern. They say Domingo would push for private meetings, under the guise of offering professional advice. That Domingo offered them jobs and then sometimes punished professionally those who refused his advances. Seven of the nine said they felt their careers were negatively impacted when they told him no. Three said he forcibly kissed them and one said he put his hand down her skirt.

    In a statement, Domingo called the allegations, quote, deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. 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.

  • Patricia Wulf:

    When someone comes this close and kind of smiles in a wry smile and says, do you have to go home? I think that was pretty clear. But I — there were no misconceptions in my mind.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    None of the women had documentation of Domingo's actions such as phone messages. But the A.P. talked to three dozen singers, dancers, musicians and others who said they had witnessed Domingo acting in a sexually inappropriate way.

    Let's further explore the reaction to this news and wider questions about this abuse of power in the field. Peggy McGlone has written about this issue extensively for "The Washington Post" and she joins me now.

    Peggy McGlone, welcome to the "NewsHour".

    Now, the story broke just today. But tell me, what has been the broader reaction within the opera and the classical music world?

  • Peggy McGlone:

    Well, there was swift reaction actually today. The Los Angeles Opera announced an outside investigation and then several organizations, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, canceled upcoming performances with Placido.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, there's been some reaction and actions already taken. One of the commonalities I took away from some of the allegations in the Associated Press report was this idea of a whisper network when it came to Placido Domingo, that it was sort of an open secret among women, he was someone to be avoided.

    You've reported in this space for a while. Is that anything that had ever come up before?

  • Peggy McGlone:

    Right. That is a common thread that we've heard. My colleague Anne Midgette and I did a big report last year. We talked with more than 50 musicians and — about others, not Placido Domingo.

    But that was a common — a common thing that we heard, that women would help each other by, you know, sharing what they thought with rumors or other, you know, firsthand experiences, don't be alone with him, don't ride the elevator with him, don't let him walk you to your car, have an escape plan. It was a myriad examples of how to deal with these kinds of people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One of the allegations is that he retaliated against women who refused his advances. Help us understand a little bit about how power is distributed. I mean, Placido Domingo held a number of top managerial positions at a number of organizations. What kind of influence would he exert in those organizations?

  • Peggy McGlone:

    These top people have control for reasons like casting, for recommendations, especially with young artists who are starting out, and we heard this a lot last year, Anne and I, where you wouldn't want to rebuff someone who could give you a recommendation or sign you up for an audition or get you into the next training program that would be the next step in your career.

    And so, part of it was that there were these choices that had to be made that, you know, that these young women, many of them starting out didn't want to ruin things before they even got going.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Peggy, you reported today that Domingo in particular was invested and active in a lot of those young artist training programs. You spoke to a woman who participated in one of those. What did she have to tell you?

  • Peggy McGlone:

    Yes, yes. So, she was not the target of him herself, but she said that it was, you know, well-known. It's again that open secret in the community. You know, you just go about your day knowing that he was going to make unwanted advances or in the story she was telling me, have a very open — you know, everybody knows about it, sexual relationship with a young artist. And no one knew what to do about it.

    And then she said that that sort of creates a culture where people feel like this behavior is acceptable or there will be no consequences, and then others, maybe people who aren't superstar status, then have the opportunity or take advantage of that to do terrible things themselves. And she also talked about how that power dynamic, who is going to believe a young artist over, you know, a major superstar, and so, that's also, you know, part of this equation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned obviously L.A., is that they're investigating. Philadelphia has rescinded an invitation for Domingo to perform there in September. But Salzburg, Austria, said he will still be performing there later in August.

    Peggy, I want to ask you, because you have written about a number of other people, other high-profile figures in this world, who have faced similar allegations. What have you learned from their cases that tells you how these kinds of allegations can be handled in this world?

  • Peggy McGlone:

    You know, it does matter, you know, and it is different organization to organization. Last year, the Cleveland Orchestra also investigated with an outside company, and they posted their findings on their Website. And not only did they confirm the allegations that were in our story about William Preucil, but they found another musician who also was accused. And so, they fired both of them.

    But then James Levine sued after he was fired from the Metropolitan Opera last year, the result of similar sexual harassment allegation, and they settled recently. And neither side will say, you know, what the agreement was. So, you know, it's hard to say what the aftermath of these things are.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still remains to be seen. Peggy McGlone of "The Washington Post," thank you so much.

  • Peggy McGlone:

    Oh, thank you.

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