LA Opera Finds 'Inappropriate Conduct' Claims Against Plácido Domingo Credible

Mar 10, 2020
Originally published on March 11, 2020 1:33 pm

Updated at Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET

On Tuesday afternoon, LA Opera — the Los Angeles opera company which came into being in part thanks to Plácido Domingo — announced that investigators had substantiated 10 "inappropriate conduct" claims made against the famed singer.

The investigators say that the alleged incidents took place between 1986, when Domingo helped found LA Opera and became its artistic advisor, and just last year, when the singer resigned as the company's general director after the Associated Press began reporting women's complaints against him.

In all, 21 women have come forward to the AP with accusations against Domingo, the most recent of whom spoke out on Feb. 26.

The investigators are from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and were led by former United States Attorney and Superior Court Judge Debra Wong Yang. They say that they found the allegations credible in part because many of the accusers offered "similarities in their accounts." The investigators interviewed 44 individuals in all, including those alleging misconduct, Domingo himself, LA Opera management and company board members.

Domingo has gone back and forth in acknowledging and apologizing for his alleged behavior and then walking those statements back. In a concluding press statement released Tuesday, LA Opera says that while the singer cooperated with this investigation, he "denied all allegations of unwanted contact and maintained that all his interactions were consensual."

The report continues, "Gibson Dunn often found him to be sincere in his denials but found some of them to be less credible or lacking in awareness."

The investigators added that because hiring decisions involve multiple people at LA Opera, they did not find that Domingo ever engaged in quid pro quo arrangements or retaliated against women at LA Opera.

Attorney Debra Katz, who represents three of Domingo's accusers, including singer Angela Turner Wilson, issued a statement Wednesday that objected to that finding.

"This conclusion, while demonstrably false, was reached in an effort to protect the LA Opera from liability," Katz asserted in part. "I sat through the investigatory interview with Angela Turner Wilson, who detailed how Domingo repeatedly dangled roles in front of her for the LA Opera, and even connected her agent to casting opportunities as part of his efforts to pressure her into a sexual relationship with him. However, as Ms. Wilson told the investigators, as soon as she rejected his advances, she was never again hired. ... He had absolute influence over the company."

Domingo's representatives declined to comment to NPR on Tuesday.

Domingo's storied career has unraveled slowly in the wake of the AP's two reports. Initially, it was only American companies that split from Domingo.

Last September, some employees of New York's Metropolitan Opera told NPR that they were uncomfortable and angered to be working with Domingo in the wake of the women's accusations. After that report, the chief of the Metropolitan Opera in New York initially told the company's employees that the women's allegations were "not corroborated." The singer and the Met eventually parted ways.

In late February, the musicians' union that represents opera performers, the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), offered a brief summary of its own independent investigation against Domingo, saying that investigators had substantiated "inappropriate activity, ranging from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outside of the workplace." However, AGMA declined to say how many women's claims had been substantiated, nor any time period for the alleged behavior.

NPR previously reported that AGMA had tried to negotiate a $500,000 settlement with Domingo, but that the singer walked away from the deal after one of the union's now-former elected leaders gave some details about the proposed settlement to the press.

As the AGMA report was released, Domingo gave an initial public statement in which he said in part that he was "truly sorry for the hurt" he said he caused, adding, " I accept full responsibility for my actions." In the wake of those statements, a flurry of European and British opera houses and festivals canceled Domingo's upcoming performances. They include a "mutual" decision that the singer would not appear at London's Royal Opera House this summer as well as performances in Spain, including at Madrid's Teatro Real. On Tuesday, the Hamburg State Opera also announced that Domingo would not be appearing there later this month and in April, but said that it was due to concerns related to coronavirus.

The Thursday report summary from LA Opera also included a list of recommendations that the investigators made to combat sexual harassment at the California opera company.

LA Opera has pledged that it will implement all of the investigators' suggestions "fully and expeditiously." They include training for managers and contractors, a more formal and fully fleshed out process for investigating and resolving harassment complaints and a "strengthened" role for the company's HR department.

In a letter sent to LA Opera staff along with the report summary, the company's president and CEO, Christopher Koelsch, wrote in part: "On a personal level, I am troubled, and regret, that individuals engaged with the company may have felt disempowered, vulnerable or unheeded in any way. We have learned through this process that there is a widespread, industry-wide hesitancy to report harassment, and it is critical to our future that we work to build trust and transparency with one another ... I recognize that this has been a difficult period for the dedicated, gifted and generous individuals of LA Opera; I genuinely regret any sorrow it has caused, but truly believe the organization will be strengthened by the process."

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