Perspective | Plácido Domingo’s days as a performer should be over


Plácido Domingo, the disgraced 81-year-old operatic tenor roundly exiled from opera circles in the United States for allegations of sexual harassment that spanned three decades, has now reportedly been linked by Argentine prosecutors to a criminal enterprise in Buenos Aires that included sex trafficking of minors.

In wiretaps obtained by prosecutors and reported on Wednesday, what authorities say is the Spanish-born tenor’s voice — the same one that made him an international superstar on the world’s grandest stages — is heard organizing a rendezvous with a woman referred to as “Mendy.” (Elsewhere in the recordings, “Mendy” is allegedly heard referring to the man as Plácido.) The man gives “Mendy” instructions on how they should avoid being seen together and asks her to arrive separately to his hotel room.

The operation was one of about 50 raids conducted by authorities on the criminal front (a.k.a. the “Buenos Aires Yoga School”) in which 19 people were arrested. As of Thursday morning, no charges had been filed against Domingo and his representatives did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment.

The news may be shocking even to those who know of the events of 2019, when multiple allegations of harassment against the singer first emerged from nine female artists. One month after the initial wave of accusations, 11 more women reported being harassed by the singer, who they say pressured them into sexual relationships, dangled job opportunities as leverage and doled out professional punishment if they spurned his overtures, which included groping and forced kissing. Dozens of witnesses corroborated the women’s claims that Domingo just couldn’t — or more precisely, wouldn’t — keep his hands to himself.

In the aftermath, he withdrew from performances at Metropolitan Opera in New York and he resigned from the L.A. Opera, where he had served as general director. His name was stripped in March 2020 from the Washington National Opera’s prestigious young artist program — now known simply as the Cafritz Young Artists of Washington National Opera.

In wake of harassment allegations against Plácido Domingo, companies step back

As for Domingo, he took the brave step of confronting his demons in public by posting to Facebook an apology that quickly morphed into a denial.

“My apology was sincere and heartfelt, to any colleague who I have made to feel uncomfortable, or hurt in any manner, by anything I have said or done,” he typed, setting up the twist. “But I know what I have not done and I’ll deny it again. I have never behaved aggressively toward anyone, and I have never done anything to obstruct or hurt anyone’s career in any way.”

“On the contrary,” he continued. “I have spent much of my half-century in the opera world supporting the industry and furthering the careers of countless singers.”

A very countable number of singers who allege Domingo’s vile behavior derailed their careers might disagree.

After a 2020 investigation by the American Guild of Musical Artists found that Domingo had in fact acted inappropriately, he followed up with a more cleanly tailored apology: “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,” he said in a statement.

And now we have this. What will Domingo’s excuse be this time? That “Mendy” wasn’t a singer? And more important, what will the rest of the world’s excuse be?

As of Thursday morning, Domingo was still on the calendars of Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico (singing in concert); Arena Di Verona (a week-long engagement with the company still battling criticism for its stubborn adherence to blackface in its recent production of “Aida,” which led soprano Angel Blue to withdraw in protest from her scheduled performance in the company’s “La Traviata.”); the Ljubljana Festival in Slovenia; plus concerts in Spain, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Paraguay, Bolivia, Belgium, Croatia, the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

These come on the heels of uninterrupted months of performances across Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, unhindered by the hermetically sealed antipathy the American opera world has managed to sustain toward the singer. On the international stage, Domingo has largely weathered the storm of consequence and remained an in-demand international star. But why?

I can tell you right now it’s not his voice — an understandably diminished instrument, these days more suited to channeling strained nostalgia than delivering fresh expression. What fire once lit up his voice is half-supplied by the flame that lives in the listener’s memory.

Still, that strained nostalgia is valuable stuff. Domingo himself may increasingly be a void, but his presence still fills seats, keeps the doors open and (importantly) meets demand.

How desperate and sad to see institutions pretend that Domingo is a legend instead of a man, that his artistic legacy must be preserved at the expense of their own integrity. Then again, that integrity needs to come from somewhere. The opera world, overly prone to protecting its own bad habits, just can’t seem to quit Domingo.

Companies that continue to support abusive men send a crystal clear signal to young artists entering the world of opera: You’re on your own. They also broadcast a special kind of cowardice — not just a fear for the future, but a palpable fear of it. What happens when we stop treating talented men as earthbound gods? What are the stakes of removing the reins of power from the hands of those most likely to abuse it? Why don’t these companies see behavior like this as a betrayal of the art they work so hard to produce?

Most changes take time in opera — diversifying casts, re-examining the canon, raising marginalized perspectives to the level of the stage. But the Domingo problem is easy. Stop booking him.

At the top of his website, a self-aggrandizing mantra remains under his name: “If I rest, I rust.”

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