Opera legend Placido Domingo has been accused by multiple women of trying to pressure them into sexual relationships by dangling jobs.
Eight singers and a dancer claim the 78-year-old singer and conductor sexually harassed them in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions.
One accuser said Spanish-born Domingo stuck his hand down her skirt and three others said he forced wet kisses on their lips — in a dressing room, a hotel room and at a lunch meeting.
"A business lunch is not strange," said one of the singers. "Somebody trying to hold your hand during a business lunch is strange — or putting their hand on your knee is a little strange. He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you."
In addition to the nine accusers, a half-dozen other women told the AP that suggestive overtures by Domingo made them uncomfortable, including one singer who said he repeatedly asked her out on dates after hiring her to sing a series of concerts with him in the 1990s.
The AP also spoke to almost three dozen other singers, dancers, orchestra musicians, backstage staff, voice teachers and administrators who said they witnessed inappropriate sexually tinged behaviour by Domingo and that he pursued younger women with impunity.
'The allegations are deeply troubling'
Domingo said: "The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.
"Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone.
"However, I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards."
Seven of the nine accusers told the AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after they rejected Domingo's advances, with some saying that roles he promised never materialized and several noting that while they went on to work with other companies, they were never hired to work with him again.
Only one of the nine women would allow her name to be used — Patricia Wulf, a mezzo-soprano who sang with Domingo at the Washington Opera.
One of them said she had sex with him twice, including at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles. When Domingo left for a performance, the woman said, he put $10 on the dresser, saying, "I don't want you to feel like a prostitute, but I also don't want you to have to pay to park."
'I finally gave in and slept with him'
One singer who is among Domingo's accusers was 23 and performing in the LA Opera chorus when she first met the superstar in 1988. She said she remembers wiping his saliva off her face from a sloppy, wet stage kiss after which he whispered in her ear, "I wish we weren't on stage."
Domingo started calling her at home frequently, she said, although she had not given him her number. "He would say things like, 'Come to my apartment. Let's sing through some arias. I'll give you coaching. I'd like to hear what you can do for casting,'" she said.
Whenever he returned to Los Angeles over the course of the next three years, she said he was uncomfortably affectionate, slipping a hand around her waist or kissing her on the cheek too close to her mouth. He would enter her dressing room uninvited, she said, which she said she assumed was to catch her undressed.
The mezzo-soprano said she strenuously tried to avoid being alone with him, while also striving not to insult him. But he did not take the hint, she said.
She said she agreed to meet Domingo about 11 p.m. one night "and then I had a full-blown panic attack. I freaked out, and I just kept not answering the phone. He just filled up the machine, calling me until 3:30 in the morning."
In 1991, she said, "I finally gave in and slept with him. I ran out of excuses. It was like, 'OK, I guess this is what I have to do.'"
She said she had sex with Domingo on two occasions, at his Los Angeles apartment and at the Biltmore hotel, where he left the money on the dresser.
Another young singer at the LA Opera, where Domingo was the incoming artistic director, said he immediately started calling her at home after she met him at a rehearsal in 1988.
"He would say, 'I'm going to talk to you as the future artistic director of the company'" and discuss possible roles, she said. "Then he would lower his voice and say, 'Now I'm going to talk to you as Placido,'" she said, and ask her to meet him — for a drink, to see a movie, to come to his apartment so he could cook her breakfast.
During one of his frequent visits to her dressing room, he admired her costume, leaning forward to kiss her cheeks and placing one hand on the side of her breast, she said.
'How do you say no to God?'
The singer — who was 27 and just starting her career — said she felt trapped.
"I was totally intimidated and felt like saying no to him would be saying no to God. How do you say no to God?" she said.
As the calls wore on, she stopped picking up the phone. In person, she gave excuses, she said: She was busy, she was tired, she was married. Finally, she said, she surrendered to "a feeling of impending doom" that "I wasn't going to have an opera career if I didn't give in."
She said she went to his apartment, where they engaged in "heavy petting" and "groping."
In the days and weeks after, she said Domingo repeatedly called her. "I felt like prey. I felt like I was being hunted by him," she said.
The singer said that once Domingo took over control of casting decisions at the LA Opera in 2000, he never hired her again.
At the Washington Opera, where Domingo served as artistic and then general director for 15 years, mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf said the star would confront her night after night with the same whispered question.
"Every time I would walk off stage, he would be in the wings waiting for me," she said. "He would come right up to me, as close as could be, put his face right in my face, lower his voice and say, 'Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?'"
She said she regularly would rebuff him, but that his pursuit remained relentless.
It got to a point, Wulf said, that she would try to hide from Domingo behind a pillar. She also would hide in her dressing room and peek to make sure he was not in the hallway before she left, she said.
"As soon as you walk away and get away, you think, 'Did I just ruin my career?' And that went on through that entire production."