MILAN — Placido Domingo returns to the stage at the Salzburg Festival this weekend to perform for the first time since multiple women accused the opera legend of sexual harassment in allegations brought to light by The Associated Press.
Two opera houses in the United States have canceled performances, but no European opera house has taken Domingo off the bill. Instead, some colleagues and venues there have come to his defense, resisting what they see as a rush to judgment.
The 78-year-old Domingo has received the full support from Salzburg Festival management and his co-stars ahead of Sunday’s performance of Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” in which the famous tenor will sing the baritone title role.
Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler said in a statement confirming the engagement that, “I would find it wrong and morally reprehensible to make irreversible judgments at this point, and to base decisions on such judgments.” She also cited Domingo’s famous amiability, observed over 25 years, adding “had the accusations against him been voiced inside the Festspielhaus in Salzburg, I am sure I would have heard of it.”
Most of the 21 performances planned in Europe through November 2020 have been confirmed — including a gala concert to mark his 50th anniversary at Milan’s La Scala on Dec. 15 — although the singer’s interactions with journalists and the public may be curtailed. A Domingo news conference planned for Monday and press rehearsals have been canceled ahead of a performance in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged on Aug. 18. No reason was given.
Most opera houses cited the presumption of innocence. In some cases, venues said they would monitor the outcome of an Los Angeles investigation before coming to a conclusion, while the Royal Opera House in London expressed a “zero tolerance policy towards harassment of any kind.” Significantly, the Vienna Staatsoper, where Domingo will sing four times in the coming months, has not yet commented but promised to do so after returning from holiday next week.
The AP story published last week detailed extensive allegations of sexual harassment by nine women against Domingo that spanned decades. The women accused Domingo of using his power at the LA Opera, where he has been the longtime general director, and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships. Several of the woman said he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances. Allegations included repeated phone calls, invitations to hotel rooms and his apartment, and unwanted touching and kisses.
In a statement to AP, Domingo called allegations “deeply troubling and, as presented inaccurate” and said he believed his interactions with the women to be consensual. He has not spoken publicly about the allegations since the article was published.
Skeptics of the #MeToo movement welcomed the support for Domingo as a necessary cooling of a movement that some see as quick to judgment as it unmasked long-concealed sexual harassment across an array of fields. But feminist activists caution that the decision by theaters and many colleagues to rally around Domingo without assurances that they take such allegations seriously could have a chilling effect on other victims.
”Usually when these things come out, it is because they have been bubbling under the surface,” said Giulia Blasi, a journalist who launched the Italian version of #MeToo, #QuellaVoltaChe, three days before the English version made its global trajectory. “The opera houses say they have no choice. They do have a choice. They can choose to protect their singers, and they can choose not to invite someone back who has been abusing their power.”
In recent months in Europe, famous men accused of sexual harassment have made public appearances that would be more difficult, if not impossible, to stage in the United States.
Woody Allen, who faces decades-old accusations of sexual misconduct by his adoptive daughter, was warmly welcomed at La Scala for a staging of a one-act opera. Meanwhile, Hollywood stars in his most recent film have donated their compensation to victims’ groups as a sign of solidarity for abuse victims. Louis C.K. played a small club in Milan last month, after two engagements in Britain were canceled by protests, and Kevin Spacey appeared in public at a Rome museum where he gave a dramatic reading of a poem about a dejected boxer.
The Italian poet Gabriele Tinti, who organized the reading of his work by Spacey, told The Associated Press in an email that he was well aware of the allegations when he engaged Spacey, whom he called “simply one of the best actors in the world.” He added: “I have always taken the side of the scapegoat.”
”I believe that #MeToo is becoming a violent witch hunt. Spacey, like others, has the right to the presumption of innocence and I cannot in any way support the preventative exclusion and annihilation of a man, woman or work,” Tinti said.
In a similar vein, Spanish journalist David Gistau complained in the mainstream El Mundo that two Domingo U.S. performances were canceled “by all those who prefer to hand over for public destruction an actor or tenor they work with rather than stand up to, even for a moment, the feminist leviathan.” He equated the people who do that with “lynchers.”
”In this way, #MeToo, which could have helped put right abuses by people in powerful positions and thereby change many years of pernicious social relationships that nobody called into question in a cultural sense, has ended up becoming a laser gun in The War of the Sexes, seeking to consecrate the notion that man is woman’s natural predator,” he said.
The apparent backlash is not surprising to feminists at the forefront of a global movement that sought to call-out mistreatment by primarily men in power.
”The patriarchy will always sound reasonable,” said the Italian activist, Blasi. “I have to say that the only people who have paid for what happened after #MeToo were the women.”
Caterina Bolognese, the head of the gender equality division at the Council of European Council, said the #MeToo movement helped speed work on guidelines that defined sexism, including sexual harassment, and underlined that it leads to sexual violence. The guidelines were adopted by the 47-member Council of Europe last spring.
”The #MeToo movement makes it impossible for member states to ignore sexism,” she said. But she acknowledged that it is often difficult for the public to accept accusations lodged against people they admire.
Speaking of Domingo, she said that “if he did these things, the way he would be great would be to allow himself to apologize properly and bear the consequences of his actions.”
”Especially people who have such standing in their field should realize how what they say and do affects attitudes and they themselves could be leaders in recognizing that they made mistakes. And apologize for them,” Bolognese said.
Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Barry Hatten in Lisbon contributed.