Plácido Domingo Leaves Met Opera Amid Sexual Harassment Inquiry

The New York Times Entertainment 1 month ago

In an 11th-hour reversal, the superstar singer Plácido Domingo withdrew on Tuesday from the Metropolitan Operas production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” and indicated he would not return to the Met, amid rising tensions over the company’s response to allegations that he had sexually harassed multiple women.

Mr. Domingo’s withdrawal on the eve of the performance — opening night is Wednesday — came as a growing number of people who work at the Met expressed concern about his planned appearance. Other American cultural institutions, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera, had already canceled Mr. Domingo’s upcoming appearances, citing the need to provide a safe workplace.

The backstage tensions at the Met boiled over in recent days, including at a heated, sometimes emotional meeting that Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, held with orchestra and chorus members after the “Macbeth” dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon. Some of those at the meeting questioned what Mr. Domingo’s return said about the Met’s commitment to protecting women and rooting out sexual harassment.

Three days later, Mr. Domingo said in a statement to The New York Times that he was dropping out of “Macbeth” — which was to have been his first United States performance since the sexual harassment allegations were reported last month.

“I made my debut at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 27 and have sung at this magnificent theater for 51 consecutive, glorious years,” Mr. Domingo said in a statement. “While I strongly dispute recent allegations made about me, and I am concerned about a climate in which people are condemned without due process, upon reflection I believe that my appearance in this production of ‘Macbeth’ would distract from the hard work of my colleagues both onstage and behind the scenes. As a result, I have asked to withdraw and I thank the leadership of the Met for graciously granting my request.”

It sounded unlikely that he would ever be back on the company’s stage.

“I am happy that, at the age of 78, I was able to sing the wonderful title role in the dress rehearsal of ‘Macbeth,’ which I consider my last performance on the Met stage,” he said. “I am grateful to God and the public for what they have allowed me to accomplish here at the Metropolitan Opera.”

The Met issued a statement that seemed to suggest that the company had asked him to go. “The Metropolitan Opera confirms that Plácido Domingo has agreed to withdraw from all future performances at the Met, effective immediately,” the statement said. “The Met and Mr. Domingo are in agreement that he needed to step down.”

The accusations against Mr. Domingo were first reported in August by The Associated Press, which wrote that he had pressured women into sexual relationships, and sometimes professionally punished those who rebuffed him. (In addition to being a star singer, Mr. Domingo has held leadership positions at Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera, the companies where many of the accusers met Mr. Domingo.) The news agency’s initial report cited nine women, all but one of whom had been granted anonymity; a subsequent report cited 11 more women, one of whom was named.

The Domingo case roiled the Met, which is still recovering from the firing of its former music director, James Levine, last year amid accusations of sexual misconduct. In the #MeToo era, it also raised ongoing questions about how institutions deal with accusations of sexual harassment or abuse, even those that emerge outside their walls. And it posed a test for Mr. Gelb, who saw his initial decision — to go forward with Mr. Domingo’s performances as investigations into his conduct progressed elsewhere — grow more and more untenable amid a growing outcry within his company.

For decades, Mr. Domingo has been one of the Met’s most valuable stars. It was a unique partnership between singer and company: Mr. Domingo starred in more opening-night performances than anyone else — 21, beating Enrico Caruso’s record of 17. He sang on its stage hundreds of times in a wide variety of roles, moving to lower baritone parts when he could no longer hit a tenor’s high notes, and was also a regular presence in the pit conducting its orchestra. Last year, when the Met celebrated the 50th anniversary of Mr. Domingo’s debut, Mr. Gelb presented him with a piece of the Met stage.

In the wake of the published reports, the Met said that it would await the results of an investigation by Los Angeles Opera “before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo’s ultimate future at the Met.” And some people rallied behind Mr. Domingo, including his “Macbeth” co-star, the soprano Anna Netrebko, who wrote on Instagram that she was looking forward to sharing the stage “with fantastic Plácido Domingo!” He was greeted with standing ovations at appearances in Europe, including at the prestigious Salzburg Festival.

But things at the Met came to a head on Saturday afternoon, after Mr. Domingo appeared at the final dress rehearsal of “Macbeth.” Mr. Gelb had called the meeting after NPR published an account of the concerns of some members of the company.

Mr. Gelb told the gathering that no formal complaints against Mr. Domingo had been made to the Met; that he thought the multiple accusations reported so far had lacked sufficient corroboration; and that he believed the right course was to await the results of investigations underway elsewhere — including at the Los Angeles Opera, where Mr. Domingo is the general director, and by the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing many opera house employees — before taking any action, according to five people who attendedAt the meeting, one member of the chorus expressed support for Mr. Gelb’s approach, several people who attended said. But all the other speakers were critical. Several company members told Mr. Gelb that they were being put in an uncomfortable situation by having to rehearse and perform with Mr. Domingo, and questioned whether the Met’s wait-and-see stance was appropriate.

Patricia Wulf, a mezzo-soprano who described to The Associated Press repeated, unwanted propositions by Mr. Domingo when she sang with him in Washington, noted in an interview with The Times on Tuesday that her account had been corroborated — by her husband, whom she told at the time, and a colleague who used to walk her to her car at work because she feared going alone.

“He’s an incredible artist, a great performer,” she said of Mr. Domingo. “I just have absolutely no respect for him as a man.”

Several members of the Met’s company said in interviews over the past week that while they were not making assertions about Mr. Domingo’s guilt or innocence, they believed it would be prudent for him not to appear while he was being investigated — the approach the Met had taken when it suspended Mr. Levine, pending an investigation into his conduct. Mr. Gelb said at the meeting that he had felt compelled to suspend Mr. Levine swiftly because there had been news reports featuring multiple named accusers, and Mr. Levine was still leading the company’s young artists program at the time, according to several attendees.

“The Met takes any accusations of sexual harassment extremely seriously,” Mr. Gelb said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

By Tuesday morning, State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Lincoln Center, was calling for Mr. Domingo to be removed from the production — and for Mr. Gelb to be removed from his job if not.

“The Met is one of the most important cultural institutions in the city, if not the world, so it’s important that they do the right thing here and remove Domingo from the production,” Mr. Hoylman said in an interview. “The whole world is watching.”

The Met said that Zeljko Lucic, a baritone already scheduled to appear as Macbeth later in the run, would take over for Mr. Domingo. The company said it would offer audience members the option to exchange their tickets.

Mr. Domingo’s departure occurred the day that news broke that a young star tenor, Vittorio Grigolo, had been suspended by the Royal Opera in London, following an incident on a tour of Japan. Mr. Gelb said he had advised Mr. Grigolo that he would not be welcome to sing in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Met this winter unless the Royal Opera’s investigation cleared him.

Julia Jacobs contributed reporting.


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