Posted by: operatheaterink | October 3, 2019

Commentary: Plácido Domingo Leaves LA Opera, Oct. 3, 2019


Placido Domingo in LA Opera’s
“El Gato Montes: The Wildcat”
(Photo: Cory Weaver)

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Almost immediately after my “Love Letter to LA Opera” was posted, Plácido Domingo resigned as general director of the Los Angeles Opera. He also will not be performing in “Roberto Devereux” in February.

He did the only thing he could have done. He wrote a beautiful statement to the New York Times virtually thanking LA Opera and wishing the company well. He will concentrate his efforts in Europe. I am very sad, but he did the right thing.

President and Chief Executive Christopher Koelsch will stay to handle the operations of LA Opera.

The investigation will remain in force, which in my mind was a slap in the face to Domingo in the first place. But the fact that it is continuing enrages me even more. It remains a front so that LA Opera can show the world that it is doing the right thing with a politically correct approach. The company could have let others do the investigation, like the union. It is a slap in the face to Domingo who has led the company for years. It is a slap in the face to the general director they supposedly revered.

Domingo was removed from his duties as general director soon after the Associated Press came out with the first story of accusations pending the results of the investigation. Another slap in the face. He was involved in the scheduling and casting of this season and subsequent seasons since calendars are scheduled years in advance. This was another front by LA Opera to show that the company was being proactive.

After other companies in the United States wrongfully canceled his engagements, he was forced to leave the Metropolitan Opera last week. The Met handled the situation all wrong. Please read my prior commentary on Peter Gelb, who held a meeting of chorus singers and orchestra members who complained they felt “awkward” performing with Domingo on the stage. Domingo was pushed out and according to a statement by the Met, “agreed” to leave.

He is right to never again perform in Los Angeles and probably anywhere in the United States. It was like he was attacked by a bunch of ravishing dogs. The women accusers were not the only vultures. The press was. The first woman barely accused him of anything, and AP went in for the kill. Then the second woman accused him and AP went in for the kill again. All the news organizations ran with the story. And, voilà, Domingo’s career was in flames after more than 50 years of being Plácido Domingo.

He had worked so hard to raise the status of LA Opera. He had planned to remain general director of the company after he retired from singing. What a jolt when all his hard work just seemed to go up in smoke unexpectedly after AP ran with the mostly anonymous accusers’ story.

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times had Domingo gone in his commentary almost two weeks ago. He even had the new general director chosen. How dare the press act as a human resources department and create the news.

And the photos on the LA Opera website of “Roberto Devereux” show that they were from a production at San Francisco Opera. Yes, the LA Opera brochure says it is a company premiere, but it is not an LA Opera production. In tiny letters at the bottom of the page in the brochure, it says it is a Canadian Opera Company production originally owned by the Dallas Opera. Stephen Lawless staged the production in San Francisco and is set to direct the one in Los Angeles. Both San Francisco Opera and Dallas Opera canceled Domingo’s engagements almost the day the AP story broke.

Yes, Domingo did the right thing. I would want to spit venom on the LA Opera stage rather than perform in that production on that stage.

But Domingo took the high road with his statement. I don’t have to. What has happened to Domingo is a travesty and a horrible comment on the press and our society.

Now that Domingo has done what the Times wanted, Swed wrote a front-page story that reads like an obituary. It is all very nice and lists Domingo’s roles throughout the years, and points out his landmark positions in Los Angeles history. It was so clear early on that the LA Times was leading Domingo to the watering trough, but with this article, which is a look back at his career with a few lackluster compliments mixed in, I think that the Times has probably covered itself from encountering any potential illegalities.

I do not know if Domingo has grounds for a defamation libel lawsuit against various press organizations and the state senator who called for his removal from the Met without cause. He would have to prove damages based on intent. I wish he would have grounds, but that is between him and his attorneys.

He was accused with anonymous accusations. The press ran with the juicy story that fit conveniently into the goals of the #MeToo movement with anonymous attributions. And LA Opera has no qualms about continuing with its agenda. Bravo to Domingo for getting out in such a timely fashion.

And if LA Opera thinks it will rise to the occasion, its board members are wrong. Oh, yes, the LA Times will say that LA Opera will thrive, but it won’t. Mark my words. The company will never get another named artist like Plácido Domingo to act as its general director. Even if an artist with a name were considering the position, that artist would look disloyal to Domingo and would most likely never apply.

I spoke to a former member of the board of directors, wanting to know why he left the board. I didn’t get much of a response, but I did hear the sentence: “Everyone knows that Christopher Koelsch has been running LA Opera for years.” Or maybe it was: “Everyone knows that Christopher Koelsch runs LA Opera.”

Yes, well, the contributors are giving the money to LA Opera because of Domingo, not Koelsch. And this particular ex-board member told me that he got tired of spending the money it took to remain on the board due to the amount of productions being performed.

Briefly, to recap LA Opera’s history: LA Opera was run by Edgar Baitzel. He died and there was no one to run the company on a day-to-day basis. Stephen Rountree gave up some of his tasks with the Music Center to become the interim person to run the company.

Plácido Domingo had been the artistic director and then became the general director.

But LA Opera has not been like other companies. Other companies usually do not have a general director who is a major artist whose name helps the company succeed. So when a general director normally leaves a company, if the next general director has a good record of management, that general director can enhance that companies stature.

But in the case of LA Opera, there is NO ONE who can do for the company what Plácido Domingo has done for it.

I wrote a story years ago that Domingo should become artistic consultant and that another person should run the day-to-day operations of the company since Domingo was out singing and conducting for much of the year. LA Opera kept Domingo as general director and Christopher Koelsch eventually moved up the ranks to be that day-to-day person with the title of president and chief executive. The problem was solved.

But there have been other problems along the way.

The “Ring” with “Ring Festival LA” was a drain on the company’s budget.

People like Eli Broad and others were giving millions of dollars to make the production of the “Ring” possible. As I wrote previously, once a company has produced the “Ring,” it has arrived. The festival was a means to enhance tourism in Los Angeles and was billed as the largest festival Los Angeles has ever had. I thought the festival was a separate entity to the “Ring” production, but the production became part of the festival somewhere along the way.

I discovered that the festival was basically a Richard Wagner festival, since it basically honored the composer of the “Ring,” who was a known anti-Semite and racist.

I thought that the opera people didn’t know about the politicians’ intolerance of anti-Semitism and racism in Los Angeles, and that the politicians didn’t know about Wagner and his views. I wanted to help, but I got a swift kick in the pants.

I first went to a major political consulting firm in Los Angeles for help. The firm’s head was interested but learned that another PR firm had been contracted.

I wanted to see the biggest arts festival in Los Angeles that the city had ever had. I wanted to see banners up and down La Cienega Boulevard which, at the time, had numerous art galleries. I wanted all the little theaters to also be involved with their shows and I wanted the theater companies to decorate their theaters with banners that read: “Ring Festival LA.” I wanted all the arts to come together to create this massive festival that would have brought in tourists.

But somewhere along the way, I was branded as being out-of-touch.

Retired LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was sensitive to my concerns since LA County finances the Music Center. But he limited what I had in my mind as an arts festival and only presented a motion to include other composers with Wagner as part of the festivities.

Well, the press heard that and went to town on the supervisor who meant well and was headed in the right direction, but just didn’t quite hit enough of the right notes. Had that motion passed, the supervisor would have no doubt expanded the original version to include more of the arts, but it didn’t pass.

Just about the only fair press I received was when David Suissa of the Jewish Journal interviewed me. He lived up the street and came over to my house for an interview. He didn’t take notes like other reporters do but appeared extremely relaxed as he lounged on my sofa. I wondered what kind of an article would result, but the article was very fair. Suissa wrote that any major arts festival should be about more than one person. I guess he didn’t need a notepad for that.

Then LA Opera didn’t have the money to finance the production, went over-budget, and went to the LA County Board of Supervisors for a loan.

The company paid back the loan and has been adhering to a tight budget ever since.

LA Opera did alter the festival, however, by revealing Wagner’s warts in all the lectures. That worked. But in my estimation, Los Angeles could have utilized the kind of festival I was envisioning. I would still like to see such an arts festival in Los Angeles in the summer months, which would bring tourism to the city.

Why did I write all this here, when the focus is the Domingo resignation, you might ask?

I wrote it because LA Opera is now in hot water. It was on a tight budget before Domingo announced his exit, but now the funding will spiral way down into the orchestra pit.

LA Opera has moved up the ranks as a company in the United States. But for Mark Swed at the LA Times to say that the company will be just fine with Koelsch at the helm borders on ludicrous.

The company was so small years ago when I was a teacher at a Highland Park elementary school, that one of my co-teachers told me that her husband was traveling to San Francisco Opera to hear opera. That woman is now one of the ladies who volunteers in the booth at the Opera League table in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Again, LA Opera is unlike any other company in the United States. It had Plácido Domingo as its general director. Koelsch may run the company on a daily basis, but it was Domingo who brought in the funding. It was Domingo who brought in the stars. And it was Domingo who brought in the named artists to act as advisors, consultants, and even coaches.

Domingo recruited James Conlon to be the company’s music director and conductor. Conlon has worked tirelessly in that capacity. Not only has he conducted the orchestra with more enthusiasm than a firecracker spreading its light over the ceiling of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but he has been committed to explaining to audiences the critical factors inherent in each production by means of talks before the performances.

How long will James Conlon stay on? He is getting up in age and conducting all over the world. If he leaves, and he will, that will be another big blow to LA Opera. So what will be left?

There should have never been an investigation by LA Opera. After the Associated Press story broke, LA Opera should have immediately said Domingo is the general director of LA Opera. He will sing in “Roberto Devereux” in February, and that should have been that.

He was not accused of a federal crime. And one woman wrote online that Latins are more touchy than other cultures anyhow. Plus the groundless accusations supposedly happened years ago.

The #MeToo movement has been carried too far.

If LA Opera wanted to save itself, the board could have quickly started defending Domingo, no questions asked. But, alas, that never happened.

More singers should have defended him like Renée Fleming who will be performing later this month in “The Light in the Piazza.” What about Susan Graham, who is a consultant with the young artist program? Why didn’t she defend Domingo? What about James Conlon? I know he must be sick about the turn of events and does defend his recruiter. But why didn’t he speak out?

Frankly, by staying at LA Opera, Conlon is not sending the right message of loyalty to the man that originally recruited him. He must leave in my mind whenever his contract ends, or sooner. And then LA Opera will be the LA Opera it once was, without much support.

I can see it now. Domingo will leave. Someone will become the company’s general director like with other companies. And James Conlon will leave as well.

And what about Marc Stern and Carol Henry — two leaders of the board of directors? What words can they offer to appease the situation? Maybe they will leave, too.

So then Los Angeles will have the type of opera company it had before.

Nobody will care about the company and instead of it keeping its ranking and moving upward, it will quickly start declining. After all, where will the money come from to finance the productions? I doubt that Christopher Koelsch could keep the company afloat as general director or president and chief executive even if he worked 24 hours a day. The only way the company could be saved from spiraling downward would be if a great artist signed on, which is very unlikely now since that would send the wrong message.

LA Opera owes so much gratitude to Plácido Domingo. So what has the company done to show its appreciation? It has alienated him in the name of being politically correct so that he felt the need to resign.

LA Opera can never recoup what it had with Domingo as general director. He is irreplaceable.

Domingo did nothing so terrible as to warrant this outcry in the United States. He is a great, great artist. He is the world’s greatest living tenor. He didn’t deserve any of this. Los Angeles was lucky to have him at the helm of its opera company.

Good luck, LA Opera. You are going to need it.