Posted by: operatheaterink | August 27, 2019

Opinion and Commentary: LA Opera & Domingo in Salzburg, Aug. 27, 2019

The Marriage of LA Opera and Domingo:
Is It Headed for Divorce?
Response to LA Times Review and Commentary

Placido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival – Photo: SF/Marco Borrelli

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I am incensed by the commentary I just read by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times about Plácido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival after sexual harassment accusations have surfaced against him. But although I am incensed, I do see the point.

The whole situation is about the marriage of Domingo to LA Opera and a possible divorce.

Is LA Opera just a pretty face that has undergone makeovers galore that has reached its pinnacle of success due to its almighty leader? Or is it a substantial company that will remain part of the Los Angeles landscape no matter who is at its helm? Or both?

While reading the LA Times commentary and review by Swed, I kept thinking, “So who’s side is he on? The MeToo movement harassed singers who want their due and maybe a bit of revenge? Or the opera world insiders who want to show a great tenor their appreciation for all his hard work and all he has done to further the art of opera?

I kept wondering if he’s on the side of Europe, some of whose citizens are willing to overlook Domingo’s unproven indiscretions, or on the side of the United States, some of whose citizens want to lampoon anything or anyone who insinuates abuse.

Then I realized that this commentary is not really about any of that or about what the author wrote, but is about what the editors want to communicate via the main newspaper in Los Angeles about Los Angeles and LA Opera’s role as part of the Los Angeles landscape.

While reading the commentary, I thought at first that it wasn’t focused.

“So why is he writing this? So why is he writing that?” I wondered.

He wrote some complimentary comments about Domingo and the singers at the onset, but his observations, although not truly offensive, did show that Domingo may not be at the top of his game right now, and conductor James Conlon may not be on the top of the heap either. He made it look once again like what is on the top of the heap in Los Angeles may not be rated the same in Europe.

So what’s the point? I thought.

Then Swed wrote about various in-vogue opera designers and production directors who have designed and directed prior LA Opera productions, and/or are set to direct productions in the future, including Achim Freyer, who designed and directed the LA Opera “Ring,” and Barrie Kosky, who designed Mozart’s “Flute” and is directing LA Opera’s opening in September of “La Bohème.”

By the conclusion of the commentary, I was beginning to understand all the components that led up to it, even though it would have been nice to have understood along the way instead of getting angry and feeling that the piece was a cop out and never focused on the issues at hand.

“Whatever housecleaning may wind up being necessary at LA Opera, we must not let Domingo be an all-consuming burn-the-house-down distraction,” Swed wrote as the concluding paragraph in his LA Times commentary. “Instead, we need to set sights on the way forward.

“A week in Salzburg is all it takes to witness just the kind of greatness, night after night, that is within our reach, whether or not Domingo remains in the picture.”

A Cop Out

So was the commentary a cop out that did not focus on the accusations made by the women who say they were sexually harassed by Domingo, or on Domingo’s comments on the change in attitudes throughout the years, and his belief that responses to his actions have always been “consensual”?

Was it an easy way out to evade addressing the scandal?

Or was it a way to show that this is Los Angeles, the home of the LA Times and the home of LA Opera? And no matter what happens in the future, Los Angeles Opera will thrive, even with another general director?

I have a combination of thoughts. First, I think it is far too early to focus on the fact that LA Opera will survive even with a new general director. It is disrespectful to Mr. Domingo, who has worked tirelessly on the company’s behalf. He is due much appreciation for his role as LA Opera’s leader and should not be tried by the press.

I too have observations, and these may only be observations and may not even be reality. But I believe that LA Opera revolved around Domingo until this scandal erupted. The employees and board of directors were gracious and grateful to have him as general director. The company was not a traditional company trying to stand on its own, independent of its general director. It thrived knowing that its general director was there.

Domingo has elevated the status and rank of the company as artistic director and then general director. Years ago, major singers did not sing in Los Angeles except on tour. People went to San Francisco Opera to hear opera. The top company in the United States has always been the Metropolitan Opera. Then ranking behind the Met has been Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera and other companies in Dallas and Houston. However, not one of them except the Met has ever come close to La Scala in Milan, the Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, and other companies in Germany, Spain, Austria, Italy, France, Hungary, and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Only now has LA Opera moved up in ranking so that it has become a major company in the United States, and that is due to the presence and hard work of Domingo, who sings, conducts, and is an administrator of the company.

LA Opera is only now attempting to show its independence and be politically correct with an investigation of the allegations. It is almost like the board is trying to put up a front, trying to make LA Opera a real company now, separate the company from its general director. But, frankly, I believe that even the investigation is uncalled for since no matter what conclusions result, the board owes a great deal to Domingo. He has brought top-ranking singers to Los Angeles and has cast LA Opera productions with young singers who have placed in his Operalia competition or are or were singers in the company’s young artist program. No matter what the investigation proves, he deserves the company’s veneration.

At first I thought Domingo should remain general director until his contract ends with the 2021-2022 season. Then I thought Domingo’s future should be determined behind closed doors between Domingo and the board of directors — without press interference.

But if the LA Times feels the need to separate LA Opera from Domingo and communicate that LA Opera will survive and be great with another administrator at the helm, I must repeat that maybe it is time for Mr. Domingo to leave the company as general director and sing and conduct where he is appreciated.

The whole hullabaloo scandal originated with one article in the Associated Press that created a media frenzy. Women who believe they have been sexually harassed were interviewed for the story, but many of the allegations happened years ago.

Now this commentary turned review adds more fire to the pot, which could sway the outcome. I continue to say that the press should keep its nose out of this.

The companies in Europe have not canceled Domingo’s performances like San Francisco Opera and Philadelphia Orchestra have. Even though Domingo may have had plans to remain in Los Angeles to lead LA Opera after his retirement from singing, maybe it is time for him to sing and retire to the country of his choice where he can find less criticism and live in peace as the opera legend that he is.

In conclusion, I understand the point-of-view of the commentary in the LA Times, whose main interest is in the city of Los Angeles and the arts organizations within its boundaries.

I understand the need for the LA Opera board to show the company’s independence as a company, to be able to thrive under different leadership in the future.

But I believe the view that LA Opera will prevail with another general director, even a good one, is a premature assumption made far too soon. Mark Swed didn’t need to go all the way to Salzburg to write that.