Newsletter: Essential Arts: Plácido Domingo accused of harassment. What did the opera world see?

Plácido Domingo in 2008.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times )

An opera icon in trouble, the invisibility of Latinos in culture and the rare staging of a feminist play. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential arts news:

#MeToo and Plácido

The big news in culture this week landed in the form of a report from the Associated Press, which detailed extensive allegations of sexual harassment by nine women against Plácido Domingo, the famed tenor who serves as general director of L.A. Opera. Allegations included repeated phone calls, invitations to hotel rooms and unwanted touching. His behavior, the report said, was “an open secret.” One mezzo-soprano told the AP, “There is an oral tradition of warning women against Plácido Domingo.”

Domingo, in his response, stated that the allegations “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.”

Plácido Domingo conducts "Manon" for the L.A. Opera in 2006.
Plácido Domingo conducts “Manon” for the L.A. Opera in 2006.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Opera issued a five-sentence statement and announced that it would “engage outside counsel” to conduct an investigation. The Times’ Makeda Easter reports that when asked for details on who would lead the investigation, “the company responded by referring to its earlier statement.”

Patricia Wulf, a retired opera singer who worked at the Washington National Opera, was the only woman named in the AP report. She also spoke with NPR: “I never thought it would happen to me.”

Former opera singer and Plácido Domingo accuser Patricia Wulf outside her home in Virginia last month.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

As contributor Catherine Womack reports, Domingo‘s statement “landed with a thud to many opera fans and professionals.” Opera singer Samuel Schulz told Womack: “I think the institution owes not only its young artists but the entire opera community and the public community in Los Angeles a much better response.”

Times classical music critic Mark Swed reports on what this could mean for L.A. Opera: “If proved true, the allegations would be a tragic ending to one of the great careers in the history of opera, a tenor and now baritone who has sung more roles than any other, as well as a conductor, opera administrator and celebrity.”

In response to the allegations, the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera have canceled shows by Domingo.

Latinos erased

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso, I look at how the lack of Latino representation in the cultural arena has helped feed President Trump‘s narrative of Latinos as an invasion. This makes questions of inclusion urgent — “not because diversity is some feel-good thing that makes for a nice talking point during Hispanic Heritage Month, but because rendering an entire segment of the population invisible makes the cultural arena complicit in a marginalization that is entering increasingly dangerous territory.”

El Paso protest against Trump
During a rally in El Paso, a protester holds a sign that recaps the ways President Trump has depicted Latinos.
(Rudy Gutierrez / For The Times)

On the stage

The Odyssey Theatre is putting on “Fefu and Her Friends,” the infrequently staged play by María Irene Fornés. Written in the 1970s, the drama, set among a group of women in New England, was not only an important feminist work, but it also experimented with form and narrative. “Rather than setting out to confirm one strain of thinking on sexual politics,” writes Times theater critic Charles McNulty, “it dynamically dramatizes the interplay of perspectives of eight female characters, gay and straight, all of whom are grappling with the warping effect of patriarchal culture.”

Times culture critic Mary McNamara has historically been a little anxious about theater. (That whole thing about not being able to leave when things go south.) But an experience at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in which she took in a performance of “John Proctor Is the Villain,” a post-#MeToo tale about exploitation and “just-broken silence,” convinced her “that in theater, the audience is part of the creative process and that can be a thing of joy, not judgment.”

Vince Melocchi‘s new play “Andy Warhol’s Tomato,” about a Pittsburgh student with ambitions of becoming a commercial artist, has just debuted at Pacific Resident Theatre. “Amid the ongoing culture wars between urban-elite and blue-collar sensibilities,” writes contributor Philip Brandes, “Melocchi’s period play slyly reminds us the division can be bridged by our fundamental human need to create.”

The Times’ Ashley Lee explores the theatrical phenomenon of patrons posting an image of their Playbills on social media before the curtain rises: “It’s the best way to share a live experience that, unlike concerts and sports events, largely outlaws photos,” she writes. The trend has designers rethinking the graphic look of theater shows.


Classical notes

Space, the final frontier, is what the L.A. Phil paid tribute to in a Hollywood Bowl concert that featured compositions inspired by space along with soundtracks to space movies, reports Tim Greiving. Also honored at the concert were the earthlings who make space travel possible, including scientists at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Britain at the Bowl,” writes contributor Rick Schultz, was “a delightful assortment of some of the most stirring and clever music to come out of England in the last 400 years.” It also featured conductor Bramwell Tovey as “his usual warm, energetic and witty self” — good news since he is in the midst of treatment for a rare form of cancer.

Bramwell Tovey at the Hollywood Bowl
Bramwell Tovey, a longtime L.A. favorite guest conductor, though diagnosed with cancer in June, led an energetic performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

New museum design

Thom Mayne and the architects at Morphosis have unveiled their designs for the Korean American National Museum, which is scheduled to open in Koreatown in 2022. The the building’s broad footprint, writes contributor Sam Lubell, follows “the classic courtyard plan of a Korean hanok,” but the design itself will be very contemporary, featuring “a concrete facade lacking traditional architectural elements like windows and doors.”

Scene painter

My colleague Stacy Perman has a fascinating story about one of the last backdrop painters still working in the Hollywood studios: Mike Denering, who has worked at Fox and Warner Bros., creating backgrounds for films such as “Die Hard” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” “He got to see the world through his paintbrush,” writes Perman, “a vast, eccentric portfolio of deserts, spaceships, suburbs and baroque angels.”

Mike Denering backdrop painter
Backdrop painter Mike Denering in front of a mural for the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch” at Fox Studios.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

In the galleries

Morán Morán gallery is presenting a show of 20 older female artists organized by artist Eve Fowler — a show that “speaks to a hunger for artistic and cultural inheritance,” writes Sharon Mizota.

At LACMA, contributor Scarlet Cheng reports on “The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China.” The show, organized by Wu Hung and Orianna Cacchione, focuses on works that employ a single material as a mode of expression. It’s a step in a new direction for Chinese art in the U.S., writes Cheng, which is generally presented within the context of politics.

Ready for the weekend

Matt Cooper has his weekend picks — including a Harajuku-style update of “The Mikado” by Pacific Opera Project.

Plus, I’ve got my weekly Datebook, including a show of photojournalist Richard Cross’ Central America images from the 1980s.

Your support helps us deliver the news on culture — and this newsletter. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

In other news ...

— A San Francisco high school will cover up a 1930s mural depicting slavery and dead Native Americans — but will not destroy it.
— An exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., explores the refugee state.
— Enough with women as sacrificial lambs in opera plots, writes critic Joshua Kosman.
This is a great tribute to musician David Berman, who died last week.
Rhonda Garelick deconstructs the awkward photo of the Trumps holding an orphaned baby in El Paso.
— And Sahra Sulaiman has a terrific longform piece about the social, political and urban forces in Los Angeles that shaped the life of Nipsey Hussle.
You can sleep in an Edward Hopper painting.

And last but not least ...

I’m the kind of Angelena who still carries a Thomas Guide in her trunk. (You never know.)