Carol Jean Delmar on Opera—The Domingo Scandal —A Developing Story
Posted Monday, August 19, 2019 - 3:13 pm
By Carol Jean Delmar
I have been reading stories and talking to people about opera superstar Plácido Domingo, and I am perplexed about accusations that he sexually harassed anonymous female singers, except for one who gave her name to disclose that he pursued her relentlessly. He never touched her, though, and she declined his advances.
I telephoned philanthropist Marilyn Ziering, a resident of Beverly Hills who has contributed millions of dollars to LA Opera, the company Domingo heads. She declined to comment as the company is investigating the situation with outside counsel. Ziering is a vice chairman of the board of directors and supports music director James Conlon’s program to bring visibility to composers who were forgotten because of the Holocaust. She wants to honor the board’s decision that its members do not speak to the press at this time.
The board wants LA Opera employees to be respected and feel safe, but also owes much to its general director, Domingo. Although I only met him a few times, I must defend him to a certain degree since I am 72 and know the difference between men’s behavior towards women years ago and now, which he alluded to in his response to the allegations, many of which the accusers say happened as long as 30 years ago. It would be sad in my mind for Domingo’s career to end on a tragic note when he has given so much to the opera community.
When I was in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, men often flirted with women, and their behavior was often disrespectful, even if both sexes were single and dating. But women were accustomed to men’s advances and had to figure out how to respond.
I don’t think that women talked about such circumstances to other women. They just navigated the waters silently, so the men were not reprimanded for their actions. In fact, if men did not pursue women as almost prey, they could not have boasted to other men about their conquests. And during that era, men did boast to other men to show their virility. That is why Donald Trump thought he could boast to Billy Bush during the last presidential campaign and still win.
The question is: Should women have taken and allowed such sexual harassment? No, of course not. Men should never have gotten away with such behavior, but the fact remains that they did. Naturally, men who were married and exhibited this behavior added another dimension to their indiscretions. So the levels of indiscretions vary.
But for a woman (Patricia Wulf) to come out and admit that a powerful man (Domingo) made advances toward her many years ago without barely touching her—well, maybe this woman simply wants a minute of fame.
It has been determined in a documentary on Luciano Pavarotti that he too had indiscretions and married his assistant, beginning the relationship while he was still married. Pavarotti was one of the Three Tenors along with Domingo.
Many people in every facet of life have done what Domingo is accused of doing. Domingo was and is a great opera singer who is now considered a legend. He has extended his devotion to opera so that he is able to nurture young singers. He has developed his Operalia competition, conducts, and is the general director of LA Opera. I have been to various press conferences where Domingo has introduced the upcoming seasons of the company. He is always very cultured and gracious as he interacts with those present.
He is a force of nature, still singing when almost 80, conducting, and taking on casting and other administrative roles as general director of LA Opera. And he doesn’t stop after winners are announced for his competition. He nurtures the winners, sings with them around the world, helps them with their careers acting as their counselors.
He may not be singing much as a tenor anymore, but he is singing as a baritone to prolong his career. His legendary status is increasing. Yet one woman seeking her minute of fame is coming forth with accusations. The picture in circulation with him by her side holding her son shows they were friends. He flirted. She said no. Is that a major offense, or even news?
I personally would like others to come forth without anonymity where the evidence suggests a more verbose physical contact. Who are the nine women mentioned anonymously in the Associated Press article that spearheaded this conversation? Without attributions, I remain in limbo.
So should a powerful singer such as Domingo make advances at all? No, of course not—not recently or years ago. But right now, he is not only a singer and administrator, but also a grandfather who has weathered colon cancer. Now when he is elderly is not the time to clear the slate and sink the ship.
It is time for the women who were victimized by real sexual advances to come forward out of anonymity. And if they succumbed to advances, then they are to blame just as much as the perpetrator, if, in fact, their actions were consensual as Domingo has stated he thought his relationships were.
Yes, we did live with a “boys will be boys” mentality 30 years ago. We have a president who was elected to office having described similar behaviors quoted in newspapers. Past presidents have done the same.
A former member of the board of directors who still speaks at events for the company wrote me that board members should not and would not speak to the press about the incidents at this time.
“It is in the investigation phase,” she wrote me on Aug. 17.
“My personal and observed relationships with him have always been positive,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, many successful, powerful men (and women) have something negative in their pasts, or certainly claims against them, real or not. This is especially as judged by today’s standards versus past social norms.”
So my friend also acknowledges that the past was indeed different than the present as the “MeToo movement” gains momentum.
But does that mean that accusers should set the record straight today when many of the happenings occurred years ago? People change and mature. Now is not the time to accuse people for their behaviors of the past just because it is fashionable.
I am in no way saying that what may have happened is right or that it is okay to cheat on your wife. That is between a husband and wife. I simply do not believe that Domingo’s career should end on this tragic note. He should not be removed from the schedules of opera companies until his voice warrants retirement. His position as general director might be in jeopardy because of unprofessional behavior if proven, but he has been the catalyst to the company’s upward successes and has worked tirelessly on its behalf.
I don’t even know the definition of sexual harassment anymore: a smile, a touch, or the act. I don’t think the accusers do either.
Plácido Domingo is a legend, and his candle should not be blown out because of something that has nothing to do with his status as an opera singer.
Carol Jean Delmar has written opera reviews and features for various publications, including Classical Singer magazine. She is the author of “Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna and Prague to Los Angeles, 1927 to World War II to 2012.” She lived in Beverlywood for many years and currently resides in Hidden Hills.
The opinions in this commentary are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the Beverly Hills Courier.