Posted by: operatheaterink | September 10, 2019

Opinion and Commentary: The Domingo Media Frenzy, Sept. 10, 2019

The Media is Taking the Domingo Allegations Too Far

Plácido Domingo & Nino Machaidze
(Photo: Craig Mathew)

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

How do you separate the man from his art?

That has been a question directed at composer Richard Wagner for decades, but now it applies to Plácido Domingo as well.

Years ago, Los Angeles Opera was about to perform the “Ring” by Richard Wagner. If a company can mount such a production, it has arrived.

Yet Richard Wagner was a controversial figure because he wrote essays that were racist and anti-Semitic, and he incorporated characters into his operas and words into his librettos that followed that trend.

So when LA Opera wanted to have a “festival” to celebrate its production of his music, which I thought was a separate entity, I thought okay. But when the festival brochure described events that would celebrate the man, I decided the festival needed to be more multi-dimensional, to enhance Wagner’s celebrity as a composer and detract from his views as a man.

The festival moved forward as planned, although Wagner was examined and analyzed with all his warts included, a different approach that worked.

Enter Plácido Domingo: another genius musician who has nurtured the careers of many, yet apparently has a weakness for women that has tinged his image.

“Heartbroken” is how one anonymous person who has been touched by Domingo feels. That is the only word he wrote on a new post on his Facebook page, and it has generated numerous supportive comments from Facebook friends. Frankly, it almost brought tears to my eyes because it says so much.

Domingo is loved by those in the opera world: not all of them, naturally, but many. He is respected as well for his stamina and ability to keep singing at the age of 78, conduct, and serve as the general director of the Los Angeles Opera.

If a young person in the young artist program has the talent, Domingo works tirelessly to help that singer thrive. If a young artist has the talent but must give up singing for some reason, he acts as a counselor and helps that singer find another place in the opera world. He is a genuinely good person, but his lust for women may have finally become his downfall when he should be receiving accolades.

Nothing has been proven, and he is being tried by the press, specifically the Associated Press. But AP has enough power to act as a springboard for other stories, including a front-page article in the LA Times.

There has been no legal action placed against Domingo thus far. The Associated Press published a story in August based on the accusations of nine women who say that they were sexually harassed by him.

Now AP has published another story because there are more.

At the onset, all of the allegations were from anonymous women except for one by Patricia Wulf, who claims that Domingo had corralled her and asked her if she had to go home that night. She refused his advances, he did not touch her, and she walked away a little bit ruffled. That was at the Washington National Opera where Domingo was general director, and the incident happened years ago. He left the company as an administrator in 2011.

The AP story on Sept. 5 states that more women have made accusations. Angela Turner Wilson said on the record that Domingo reached down her robe and grabbed her breast before a performance almost 19 years ago at the same company.

San Francisco Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra have canceled upcoming engagements with Domingo. Dallas Opera has canceled its gala in honor of Domingo who made his US début there more than 50 years ago.

Women of the #MeToo movement in America have banded together with the hopes of attaining justice due to harassment abuses, even if the harassment took place many years ago. So Domingo has had a thriving career for more than 50 years, yet that career is now in jeopardy due to what happened years earlier.

In Europe, Domingo received standing ovations at the Salzburg Festival recently, where people seem more willing to separate the man from his opera career, and focus on the latter. His appearance in Tokyo at the Olympics is still undecided.

A scheduled documentary film was shown at approximately 300 theaters in the United States on Sept. 7, distributed by Fathom Events. I could not reach anyone at Fathom Events but did reach the managers of two local theaters. Both told me that the showings went off without a hitch and without their knowledge of any presence of the press. The managers I spoke to were in theaters in downtown Los Angeles and Universal City. The focus, a gala from Verona, was produced and scheduled before the accusations surfaced. The Hollywood Reporter reported that the turnout and proceeds were poor.

Every news outlet seems to have run with the AP story. LA Opera refuses to comment except to say that it wants to keep its employees and singers safe, and Domingo issued a statement that says the accusations are “inaccurate,” that he thought his relationships were “consensual,” and that the social climate was different many years ago. LA Opera is using outside counsel to investigate the situation.

Domingo is in New York before performing at the Metropolitan Opera with soprano Anna Netrebko, who has come to his defense. LA Opera has not taken actions. The opening of the upcoming season is on Sept. 14 with “La Bohème.” Domingo has no role in the opera.

In addition, Nancy Seltzer has recently been quoted as a spokesperson for Domingo. Seltzer heads a private public relations firm for many opera singers and is not the general spokesperson for LA Opera. She has said that the ongoing campaign by AP “to denigrate Plácido Domingo” is “inaccurate” and “unethical,” and the claims are “riddled with inconsistencies.”

And the new general director of Seattle Opera, Christina Scheppelmann, is singled out on “Slipped Disc” as having told another news organization that Domingo had no role in casting when at Washington National Opera. Scheppelmann was working at WNO at the time as his deputy and knew. Her comment is important since the accusers have said that they did not speak out earlier because they feared for their careers.

The chain reaction from the media to the opera companies is phenomenal when the majority of information is supposedly unknown due to the anonymous accusers, and the accusers who are not anonymous are citing unprofessional accusations that are still not legal offences, although I am not an attorney and do not know much about the law. I am sure that Domingo must have an attorney in the wings.

So, I ask: Where were these women at the time of the accusations and for years afterwards?

They remained silent.

The union for musical artists is pursuing an investigation to determine how sexual harassment could have prevailed for so long without the union’s knowledge. Executive director Len Egert has said that the investigation will “examine the systemic failures within the industry.” Naturally AP wrote a story on Sept. 8 on that news as well.

So — Wagner was and is celebrated no matter what he said or did many years ago, possibly because he is no longer alive. His music lives on.

Yet, one company after the other in the United States is canceling Domingo’s engagements when there is still so much unknown information. He is a legendary tenor. Most of the accusers have stated that the harassment occurred years ago when times were different.

With Domingo, it appears that due to the times, his music and art are not being separated from his persona. The events show that times are indeed different and that differences also exist due to locale: the United States vs. Europe.

I maintain that it is wrong to attempt to ruin the career of an opera legend years after such events occurred, whether or not they occurred and whether or not the accusations are accurate. Nothing has been proven in a court of law, and you “can” separate the man from his art.

People mature and change. Just as the accusers suddenly feel the need to divulge their stories and cleanse now — maybe the accused also has changed. Nothing is simple in today’s world.

Boys may have been boys years ago, but can no longer boast about their advances to their peers in the framework of today’s society. Look at Donald Trump. He boasted to Billy Bush about his conquests, and he was elected president of the United States while Bush lost his job for not reacting appropriately.

Still, I would never dream of delving back into my past and seeking out those who may not have shown respect to me. I would never dream of ruining careers based on the immaturity of both parties many years prior.

It has long been known that film directors and producers have a casting couch mentality for young female actors. Men have acted out through the centuries, but that doesn’t mean that they lost their careers and livelihoods.

I am glad that men no longer can do what they did in the past, but that doesn’t mean that we should go out of our way to ruin their lives, especially when the happenings occurred in years past and when their lives are edging toward retirement.

No, you cannot go back home again, but that is exactly what the accusers are attempting to do now.

I have just now discovered as I come to the end of this commentary that there really is nothing new here. Some of Domingo’s behavior has been described in the book, “Molto Agitato.” And then there is Marcia Lewis’s book on the private lives of the Three Tenors. The specifics may be different, but the generalities are not. So why make such a media frenzy out of this now? Just because it is fashionable and the times are different? Is this just a good story so that AP and the rest of the press decided to run with it and ruin lives?

Domingo should be praised for his tireless efforts to help young singers forge careers. He should be praised for his continuing ability to sing after the age of 78, conduct and administer LA Opera.

Whenever he retires as general director of LA Opera, he should leave of his own accord and with the board’s good will. The board has always held him in high esteem, and it would be tragic if the members were to turn against him now that he is 78 and his wife, Marta, is 84.

He will go down in history as a great tenor just as Wagner was a great composer. Can’t we celebrate both of them for their genius?

I ask the companies around the world, especially those in the United States, to show some compassion.

It is time to stop the finger-pointing and leave the man and his family at peace. It is time to help Domingo celebrate his enduring career, not harass him. He deserves far better than that.