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Plácido Domingo resigns from L.A. Opera ‘with a heavy heart’ amid harassment inquiry

Plácido Domingo during a rehearsal at the Salzburg Festival in Austria this past summer.
Plácido Domingo during a rehearsal at the Salzburg Festival in Austria this summer.
(Silvia Lelli / Salzburg Festival)

Plácido Domingo, the 78-year-old opera legend who has watched the legacy of his six-decade career darkened by allegations of sexual harassment, announced Wednesday that he is resigning as general director of Los Angeles Opera and withdrawing from future performances.

“Recent accusations that have been made against me in the press have created an atmosphere in which my ability to serve this company that I so love has been compromised,” he wrote in a statement provided to The Times. “While I will continue to work to clear my name, I have decided that it is in the best interests of L.A. Opera for me to resign as its general director and withdraw from my future scheduled performances at this time.

“I do so with a heavy heart and at the same time wish to convey to the company’s dedicated board and hard-working staff my deepest wishes that the L.A. Opera continue to grow and excel.”

Los Angeles Opera responded by thanking Domingo, who has been general director since 2003 and was scheduled to star in “Roberto Devereux” beginning Feb. 22. L.A. Opera called Domingo the driving force behind the creation and growth of the company and credited him for cultural contributions to the city that are “unprecedented and profound.” The company noted that Domingo performed more than 300 times in 31 different roles and conducted more than 100 times in Southern California.

What will be Plácido Domingo’s place in history? Reconciling one of the greatest careers in the history of opera as he steps down amid harassment allegations.
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The resignation comes a week after Domingo’s dramatic last-minute withdrawal from the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Macbeth” and his statement that he would never return to that New York stage, where he had performed every season for five decades.

In a letter to L.A. Opera staff on Wednesday, President and Chief Executive Christopher Koelsch shared the text of Domingo’s statement, which opened with, “I hold Los Angeles Opera very dearly to my heart and count my work to create and build it as among my most important legacies.” Koelsch’s letter acknowledged that the harassment allegations and resulting internal investigation have created a “painful and challenging period” for L.A. Opera, and he added that an internal investigation will continue “until its resolution.”

“We must take further steps to guarantee we are doing everything we can to foster a professional and collaborative environment,” Koelsch wrote.

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The arc of Domingo’s fall started in mid-August when the first wave of allegations broke in an Associated Press report in which one named singer and eight anonymous women described unwanted groping, kissing, persistent requests for private meetings and damage to careers if sexual advances were rebuffed. Domingo told AP that the accusations were “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.” Domingo said he believed his interactions and relationships “were always welcomed and consensual,” and in a reference to alleged incidents that stretched back to the 1980s, he added: “I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”

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AP published a second set of allegations three weeks later, citing 10 anonymous accusers plus the detailed account of singer Angela Turner Wilson. She said Domingo reached into her robe and grabbed her bare breast while they were putting on makeup for a Washington Opera performance during the 1999-2000 season.

“It hurt,” she told AP. “It was not gentle. He groped me hard.”

Domingo’s personal spokeswoman, Nancy Seltzer, called the second AP report inaccurate and unethical and noted that the makeup artist present during the alleged groping did not recall the incident. “These new claims are riddled with inconsistencies and, as with the first story, in many ways, simply incorrect,” she told AP. “Due to an ongoing investigation, we will not comment on specifics, but we strongly dispute the misleading picture that the AP is attempting to paint of Mr. Domingo.”

Wilson declined further comment on Wednesday.

Los Angeles Opera patrons enter the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on opening night Sept. 14. No protests, and no mention of Placido Domingo in the ball afterward.
Los Angeles Opera patrons enter the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on opening night Sept. 14. No protests, and no mention of Plácido Domingo in the ball afterward.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Opera commissioned an investigation by Debra Wong Yang of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. That investigation loomed over L.A. Opera’s Sept. 14 season opening performance of “La Bohème” and a fundraising gala most notable for Domingo’s absence. Although Domingo’s resignation resolves some of the pressure on L.A. Opera, the company still faces broader allegations that management failed to respond properly to harassment allegations.

Domingo’s replacement will be chosen by the L.A. Opera board of directors, and the company offered no timeline for a decision. In the meantime, day-to-day operations will continue to be run by Koelsch.

The American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents members at the Met and L.A. Opera, said Wednesday that it will continue its own inquiry into the harassment allegations and reiterated a call for members to reach out to the group’s investigator.

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“Our internal investigation has never been just about allegations against one individual,” the guild’s national director, Len Egert, said. “AGMA is committed to confronting systemic problems in our industries which can cause our members to suffer unlawful discrimination and harassment at work.”

Many past and present L.A. Opera employees did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but Melinda McLain, who was an L.A. Opera production coordinator in the 1986-87 season and worked with Domingo at Houston Grand Opera, said the singer has done the right thing by resigning.

“I hope that this action will make it easier for opera companies — and all businesses — to create harassment-free workplaces,” she said.

Patricia Wulf, a mezzo-soprano who went public with her harassment allegations against Domingo, released a statement through her lawyer Wednesday.

“I feel at peace knowing that speaking publicly is leading to changes that will hopefully protect the next generation of women in the industry,” said Wulf, who is receiving help from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

For Domingo, the resignation in L.A. seems to end his career in the U.S., at least for now. Chapman University in Orange confirmed Wednesday that Domingo will be replaced in the Feb. 25, 2020, presentation of “ ‘Roberto Devereaux’ in Concert” at the school’s Musco Center for the Arts. With the Met, San Francisco Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Dallas Opera rescinding invitations for Domingo to perform, the singer’s future prospects appear to lie in Europe.

As the accusations have swirled, the international opera community continued to express its support for Domingo, with some saying that Domingo’s warm, affectionate ways had been misinterpreted or that relatively minor lapses in judgment were being mischaracterized as predatory behavior. The singer remains scheduled to perform this month in Zurich, Moscow and Vienna, with engagements in Hamburg and Cologne, Germany; Valencia, Spain; Milan, Italy; and Krakow, Poland, later in the year.


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