Placido Domingo accused of sexual harassment, forced kissing by more women: 'He groped me hard'

Angela Turner Wilson was co-starring with Placido Domingo in "Le Cid" for the Washington Opera for the 1999-2000 season when, she alleges, he groped her breasts without consent before a performance.

Wilson told the Associated Press that she and Domingo were having their makeup done together when he stood up, put his hands on her shoulders and slipped his hands under her bra straps. She claims he then reached down into her robe and grabbed her bare breast.

The singer, then 28, says she saw him grope her in the dressing room mirror, describing the incident as physically painful.

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“It hurt. It was not gentle. He groped me hard,” she said, adding that Domingo then turned and walked away.

Wilson, now 48 and a college voice teacher in the Dallas area, is one of 11 women to come forward with allegations after an Aug. 13 Associated Press story in which numerous women accused Domingo of sexual harassment or misconduct, with some accusers claiming he'd damage their careers if they rebuffed his advances.

New accusations against the Spanish-born opera legend include allegations of unwanted touching, persistent requests for private get-togethers, late-night phone calls and attempts to kiss accusers on the lips.

Opera singer Angela Turner Wilson displays her 2000 Artist of the Year award from the Washington Opera next to a photo of herself from a 1999 performance of "Le Cid," left, and a magazine article in a Washington Opera magazine, at her home in Texas.

Opera singer Angela Turner Wilson displays her 2000 Artist of the Year award from the Washington Opera next to a photo of herself from a 1999 performance of "Le Cid," left, and a magazine article in a Washington Opera magazine, at her home in Texas. (AP)

Several additional backstage employees told the AP that they tried shielding Domingo's young co-stars from him, alleging that administrators enabled his alleged misconduct.

A rep for Domingo denied the allegations.

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“The ongoing campaign by the AP to denigrate Placido Domingo is not only inaccurate but unethical. These new claims are riddled with inconsistencies and, as with the first story, in many ways, simply incorrect,” Domingo's spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer said in a statement to the AP. “Due to an ongoing investigation, we will not comment on specifics, but we strongly dispute the misleading picture that the AP is attempting to paint of Mr. Domingo.”

Wilson told the AP that she wanted to come forward with her own allegations after Domingo's initial response to his first accusers was to say he thought his overtures “were always welcomed and consensual ... the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”

Wilson was infuriated by his response.

“What woman would ever want him to grab their breast? And it hurt,” she said. “Then I had to go on stage and act like I was in love with him.”

Now a pastor, Melinda McLain, who was the production coordinator at LA Opera for its inaugural season in 1986-87 and also worked at the Houston Grand Opera, said that at both opera companies, she made it a point to never put Placido Domingo in a rehearsal room alone with a young female singer.

Now a pastor, Melinda McLain, who was the production coordinator at LA Opera for its inaugural season in 1986-87 and also worked at the Houston Grand Opera, said that at both opera companies, she made it a point to never put Placido Domingo in a rehearsal room alone with a young female singer. (AP)

Melinda McLain, who was the production coordinator at LA Opera for its inaugural season in 1986-87 and also worked at the Houston Grand Opera with Domingo, told the AP she made it a point not to put Domingo in rehearsal rooms alone with young female singers, even if he specifically requested it, and also tried to supply him with male dressers.

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“We created these elaborate schemes for keeping him away from particular singers,” McLain said. “I never would have sent any woman of any sort into his dressing room.”

McLain said another strategy was to invite Domingo’s wife, Marta, to attend company parties “because if Marta was around, he behaves.”

Several LA Opera costume employees alleged that Domingo's backstage behavior was common knowledge and that management had been aware of it for years but did little to stop it. One employee said her colleagues tried to steer clear of sending women into fittings with Domingo as recently as the 2016-2017 season.

“I was told by my direct boss that they avoided sending any sort of attractive young woman into a fitting with him because of his behavior,” said one employee who requested anonymity because she is still in the opera industry and fears repercussions. She said Domingo was known for “getting too close, hugging, kissing, touching and being physically affectionate.”

In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 file photo, Placido Domingo and his wife, Marta, attend a rehearsal for the opening gala of the Gerard of Sagredo Youth Forum and Sports Center in Szeged, Hungary. 

In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 file photo, Placido Domingo and his wife, Marta, attend a rehearsal for the opening gala of the Gerard of Sagredo Youth Forum and Sports Center in Szeged, Hungary.  (AP)

Another costume employee described narrowly avoiding a wet kiss on the lips from Domingo by turning her head at the last minute so it landed on the side of her mouth. She said she reported it to a supervisor, who told her to avoid being alone with Domingo.

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The need for women to come up with their own avoidance strategies just to get their jobs done is a classic example of a sexually hostile work environment, a key legal component of sexual harassment, experts note.

The LA Opera has hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations in the initial AP story.

Wilson was the only new accuser to speak to the AP on the record. The others requested anonymity because they still work in the industry and said they feared recriminations in a world long dominated by Domingo and other powerful men.

One established soprano said she feared not only for herself but for her husband, who also works in opera. Others spoke of wanting to protect an art form that is struggling to remain relevant in the U.S. And some said vocal support for Domingo in Europe — and skepticism of the women’s accusations — has made them more fearful of coming forward publicly.

Domingo’s sometimes brazen backstage pursuits were an open topic of discussion, according to a number of singers and others in the industry.

One former LA Opera staffer said Domingo once backed her up against a wall, grasped her hand and whispered into her ear as her male boss looked on awkwardly. Someone should have told Domingo it was inappropriate, she said, “but it shouldn’t be the girl in the hallway on a headset trying to do her job.”

In this Nov. 5, 1994 file photo, Placido Domingo performs in the San Francisco Opera's production of "Herodiade" in San Francisco. 

In this Nov. 5, 1994 file photo, Placido Domingo performs in the San Francisco Opera's production of "Herodiade" in San Francisco.  (AP)

The employee said wardrobe staff had a joke about spraying female singers “with tenor spray, like bug spray, to keep the tenors off you.”

Some of the women told the AP that avoidance strategies included asking Domingo about his grandchildren to distract him and giggling awkwardly and pretending they didn’t quite understand when he asked for their phone numbers or suggested they meet somewhere.

Baritone Robert Gardner said he was surprised the star’s behavior hadn’t become public sooner “given his reputation inside the industry.”

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Gardner contacted the AP to say he witnessed Domingo’s behavior with mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf, who previously was the only accuser willing to be identified by name. Wulf worked with Domingo and Gardner in 1998 at Washington Opera, where the legend also served as general director, and the baritone confirmed that the star persistently propositioned her.

“I saw him positioning himself and maneuvering around rehearsal rooms and in the hallway to get close to her, and she was clearly avoiding him,” Gardner said.

Wulf told the AP that Domingo would confront her night after night when they performed together with the same whispered question, uttered very close to her face: ”‘Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?’”

Retired opera singer Patricia Wulf told the AP that Placido Domingo would confront her night after night when they performed together with the same whispered question, uttered very close to her face: “‘Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?’”

Retired opera singer Patricia Wulf told the AP that Placido Domingo would confront her night after night when they performed together with the same whispered question, uttered very close to her face: “‘Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?’” (AP)

Though she strenuously tried to avoid him, she said his pursuit seemingly had no bounds and that she feared leaving her dressing room if he was in the hallway. Though Domingo did not physically touch her, she said there was no mistaking his intentions.

Both Wulf and Angela Turner Wilson said they did not report the star’s behavior to management, fearing they wouldn’t be believed and that they would be the ones penalized.

Wilson told the AP she was aware of Domingo’s reputation by her third season at Washington Opera, but wanted to believe his interest was professional when he began to single her out in the fall of 1999. She said he would sit by her during rehearsal breaks for “Le Cid” and talk to her, telling her “I adore you, Angela.” But it soon became clear his interest was not entirely in her singing, she said.

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There were frequent invitations, Wilson said — to come to his apartment to watch a video of a role he wanted her to sing. To go to dinner. Just the two of them.

“I would say ‘No, maestro.’ I said that a lot. I felt like if I put ‘maestro’ on it, it would still be respectful,” she said.

“I stuck to no — ’No, I won’t meet you. No, I won’t go with you upstairs to your apartment. No, no, no.'”

Not long after performances started Oct. 30, she said he came to her dressing room and entered without knocking, saying he wanted to wish her a good show. Then, she said, he added: “I need a kiss. It’s a demanding role. I need a kiss for strength.”

Placido Domingo listens to applause at the end of a concert in Szeged, Hungary, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. 

Placido Domingo listens to applause at the end of a concert in Szeged, Hungary, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.  (AP)

Wilson said she declined, again reminding him she was married, but he continued to insist.

“I remember thinking ‘I have to get to the door,’” she said. “I started to open the door and he slammed the door with his foot and his hand and kept his hand on the door and he said, ‘I need that kiss.’ And he wouldn’t let me out.”

“I said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. You can kiss my cheek’ So he kissed me on my cheek. And then he left. And it scared me so badly. I went back to my dressing table and was shaking. I remember thinking, ‘Now I’m in trouble. How am I going to manage him now?’”

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For the rest of the run, she said, “I would lock my dressing room door. My dresser would tell me if he was outside. She would tell me if he was in the hall and if it was safe.”

Later in the show’s November run, Wilson said she was scheduled to have her makeup done alongside Domingo, which “I thought was strange. ... Usually, big stars, especially headliners, get their makeup done in their dressing room.”

But she said was reassured by the fact that the makeup person was also present and the door to the room was open.

She said that when Domingo first placed his hands on her shoulders, it merely seemed friendly.

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo during the 10th International Congress of Excellence organized by Madrid's Regional Government held at Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, Spain, on July 15, 2019.

Spanish tenor Placido Domingo during the 10th International Congress of Excellence organized by Madrid's Regional Government held at Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, Spain, on July 15, 2019. (Getty)

“I didn’t think I was in jeopardy,” she said. “We were having a friendly conversation. ... It just came out of nowhere. It wasn’t like he was complimenting me or seducing me or anything, where I would think I need to be on guard.”

She said that after he grabbed her breast, she cried out in pain and asked the makeup person, “Did you see that?” Reached by the AP, the makeup artist said he did not recall the incident and did not want to comment further on the record.

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She said she called her husband and her parents that night — and also the night he tried to kiss her — and all three confirmed to the AP that she was upset and in tears when she related to them what happened.

Wilson provided the AP with copies of a journal she kept at the time that notes rehearsals for “Le Cid” began Oct. 4, 1999. In an entry a month later, she wrote that Domingo “has told me several times how happy he was with my singing,” but also “he hits on me all the time.” She added, ’Please God don’t let it get any worse.”

The next season, she said she had three roles but that Domingo barely talked to her or acknowledged her.

Though she won the company’s prestigious Artist of the Year award that season, in 2000, she said the Washington Opera never again hired her, which she attributes to her interactions with Domingo.

Placido Domingo gives details about the opera competition Operalia at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014.

Placido Domingo gives details about the opera competition Operalia at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

“Anybody who gets ‘singer of the year’ at that company or any company looks at it as a ticket to a relationship with that company,” she said. “It’s saying you have done good work and deserve to come back. It’s not usually a farewell.”

Her career lasted another decade before she switched mainly to teaching. She sang three seasons at the New York City Opera and at other venues around the country, including the Dallas Opera and Boston Lyric Opera. She also performed at a state dinner at the White House during the Clinton administration and at the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library.

A number of the women who criticized Domingo’s behavior also expressed a lingering admiration for the star, calling him charismatic and generous, with a knack for remembering everyone’s name, and someone who has made indelible contributions to the industry.

Wilson said she realizes it’s hard for many among his legions of admirers to come to terms with stories of his sexually aggressive actions.

“It would be hard as a fan to justify or rationalize how somebody so charming and generous in so many ways could be this person,” she said.

Placido Domingo acknowledges the audience after receiving the 1999 Hispanic Heritage Award at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. 

Placido Domingo acknowledges the audience after receiving the 1999 Hispanic Heritage Award at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.  (AP)

For years, Wilson said she remained silent about her experiences with Domingo “because I felt that nobody else would say anything.” But when she read the initial AP story, she said she realized something could be done.

“I know if I miss this opportunity and move on in silence, I will feel 20 times worse,” she said. “It’s a big burden to carry around through your life. And every time another #MeToo story comes out, I go into a dark place, and I’m tired of it.”

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She said she also came forward for the sake of the young women she now teaches as the chair of a university voice department.

“The music, the art, is so wonderful,” she said, “and I wish the business could at least have the integrity to give these young women a fair shot.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.