Opera star Placido Domingo ‘truly sorry’ over sexual harassment

Hazel Ward, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 26 2020 02:54 AM

Placido Domingo, 79, has been accused by at least 20 women of forcibly kissing, grabbing or fondling them in incidents dating back to at least the 1980s. Shannon Stapleton, Reuters/file

Opera star Placido Domingo, facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, apologised for "the hurt" caused to his accusers on Tuesday, saying he accepted "full responsibility" for his actions.

The 79-year-old -- who has been a director and conductor at some of the world's most prestigious opera houses -- has been accused by at least 20 women of forcibly kissing, grabbing or fondling them in incidents dating back to at least the 1980s. 

"I respect that these women finally felt comfortable enough to speak out, and I want them to know that I am truly sorry for the hurt that I caused them. I accept full responsibility for my actions," he said in a statement released by his publicist in Los Angeles.

The statement did not specifically confirm any of the allegations.

Domingo had previously denied all the claims, referring to them as "inaccurate" and saying all his interactions and relationships were "always welcomed and consensual".

The accusations first began to surface in August and two months later, he stepped down from the Los Angeles Opera and withdrew from further performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera, effectively ending his US career.

Domingo's statement was released as the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) wrapped up an independent investigation into the storied tenor-turned-baritone, which was launched in early September over members' allegations about sexual harassment and discrimination. 

"The investigation concluded that Mr. Domingo had, in fact, engaged in inappropriate activity, ranging from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outside of the workplace," a statement from the opera, choral and dance union said. 

"Many of the witnesses expressed fear of retaliation in the industry as their reason for not coming forward sooner," it said, indicating its board had "accepted the findings of the report and will take appropriate action".

Punished for saying no?

Many fans and fellow performers leapt to Domingo's defense when the allegations first emerged, with many describing him as an innocent "ladies' man" whom women adored. 

But reports drew a starkly different picture of a man who acted with impunity, shielded by his power as one of opera's foremost stars as a whisper network evolved warning women about his alleged reputation.

Several of the women said Domingo tried to pressure them into sexual relationships by dangling jobs, and then sometimes punished them professionally when they refused his advances.

But in his statement, the "King of Opera" said that had "never" been his intention. 

"I understand now that some women may have feared expressing themselves honestly because of a concern that their careers would be adversely affected if they did so. 

"While that was never my intention, no one should ever be made to feel that way," said Domingo, who was one of the most recognized tenors of the 20th century but has since transformed himself into a baritone. 

Domingo said he wanted to affect "positive change in the opera industry so that no one else has to have that same experience", expressing his "fervent wish that the result will be a safer place to work for all in the opera industry". 

Empowering artists against harassment

The AGMA union said it would not let up in its efforts to protect its members, calling for an industry-wide initiative to "positively change the culture" in the fields of opera, choral music and dance.

"This will ensure that artists feel respected and empowered to address sexual harassment and related issues going forward," said AGMA's National Executive Director Leonard Egert. 

The union also said it would run a promotional campaign both on- and off-line as well as training programs to empower its members to speak out and prevent harassment.

Domingo's statement was released a day after Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault but acquitted of the most serious predatory charges in a verdict hailed as a victory by the #MeToo movement. 

Since the sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein first emerged in October 2017, more than 80 women have come forward, igniting a global reckoning over men who have abused positions of power. 

In Europe, the Madrid-born singer's career has been less affected by the scandal than in the US, with European opera houses taking more of a wait-and-see stance. 

Since the allegations first surfaced, the Spanish mega-star has performed in Austria, Hungary and Russia and he still has a string of upcoming concerts in Europe that remain unchanged.