World-renowned opera star Placido Domingo has denied accusations that he tried to pressure women into sexual relationships by offering them jobs and sometimes punishing them professionally when they refused his advances.
Regarded as one of the greatest opera singers of all time, Domingo also is a prolific conductor and the director of the Los Angeles Opera.
But his accusers and others in the industry say there is a troubling side to the 78-year-old Domingo which they claim has long been an open secret in the opera world.
Eight singers and a dancer have told the Associated Press that they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born singer in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions.
The multiple Grammy winner did not respond to detailed questions from AP about specific incidents, but issued a statement saying: “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.
“Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions.
“I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone.
“However, I recognise that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards.”
One accuser said Domingo stuck his hand down her skirt and three others said he forced wet kisses on their lips — in a dressing room, a hotel room and at a lunch meeting.
“A business lunch is not strange,” said one of the singers. “Somebody trying to hold your hand during a business lunch is strange — or putting their hand on your knee is a little strange. He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you.”
In addition to the nine accusers, a half-dozen other women told the AP that suggestive overtures by Domingo made them uncomfortable, including one singer who said he repeatedly asked her out on dates after hiring her to sing a series of concerts with him in the 1990s.
AP also spoke to almost three dozen other singers, dancers, orchestra musicians, backstage staff, voice teachers and administrators who said they witnessed inappropriate sexually tinged behaviour by Domingo and that he pursued younger women with impunity.
Seven of the nine accusers told the AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after they rejected Domingo’s advances, with some saying that roles he promised never materialised and several claiming that while they went on to work with other companies, they were never hired to work with him again.
Only one of the nine women would allow her name to be used — Patricia Wulf, a mezzo-soprano who sang with Domingo at the Washington Opera.
The others requested anonymity, saying they either still work in the business and feared reprisals or worried they might be publicly humiliated and even harassed.
The women making the accusations — who said they were emboldened to speak out by the #MeToo movement — were mostly young and starting their careers at the time.
At the Washington Opera, where Domingo served as artistic and then general director for 15 years, mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf said the star would confront her night after night with the same whispered question.
“Every time I would walk off stage, he would be in the wings waiting for me,” she said. “He would come right up to me, as close as could be, put his face right in my face, lower his voice and say, ‘Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?’”
She said she regularly would rebuff him, but that his pursuit remained relentless.
“As soon as you walk away and get away, you think, ‘Did I just ruin my career?’ And that went on through that entire production.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra later rescinded an invitation to have Domingo appear at its opening night concert.
The orchestra said it was “committed to providing a safe, supporting, respectful and appropriate environment”.