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Commentary: Placido Domingo's Sexual Harassment Allegations

Associated Press
Placido Domingo gets ready to sing the national anthem prior to the MLS Cup between the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution November 18, 2007 in Washington, DC.

The Dallas Opera has dropped singer Placido Domingo from its March gala following sexual harassment allegations now under investigation. One complaint came from a TCU professor who decided to speak out publicly. Commentator Lee Cullum applauds both.

Brava and five stars for soprano Angela Turner Wilson for calling time on Plácido Domingo so convincingly that the Dallas Opera has cancelled his appearance at a gala next spring and the American Guild of Musical Artists has launched an investigation into the unprofessional life of this most fabled of tenors.

With clarity and candor Wilson described how, in a makeup room at the Washington National Opera in 1999, Domingo put his hands on her shoulders, pulled up her bra, slipped a hand into her robe and grabbed her breast so forcefully it was painful.

This was not a seduction, much less a flirtation. It was not a case of uncontrollable attraction either, nor even lust. It was a matter of power, of course, but more than that, it was hostile and aggressive, intended, I suspect, to intimidate her so she wouldn’t out-sing him on the stage. She, after all, was 28 and in blooming voice while he was thirty years older, an aging tenor about to be deployed, eventually, as a baritone.       

Even so, Plácido Domingo is a wonder, and he seemed wonderful for a long time. When trouble broke out for him a month ago, Anna Netrebko, preeminent  soprano, posted on Instagram that she was looking forward to working with him in Macbeth at New York’s Metropolitan Opera this fall. This gesture of support was elegant, and generous. It persuaded me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But no longer.

It’s gratifying  that Dallas would do the right thing while in New York the Met is still dithering about Macbeth, waiting for an investigation in  Los Angeles where Domingo is still general director of that city’s opera.  (UPDATE: Domingo has withdrawn from the production of Macbeth, and will no longer appear with the Metropolitan Opera.)

This is not the first time the arts in North Texas have reacted swiftly and honorably to bad #MeToo trouble. In late 2017 Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center and managing director Jeff Woodward took decisive action and so did  Agustin Arteaga who runs the Dallas Museum of Art. They were parting with people of considerable talent, Lee Trull, director of new play development and Gavin Delahunty, curator of contemporary art, but that was what had to be done. Both men were, shall we say, taking unfair advantage of women who worked - or aspired to work - with  them.

For Ian Derrer, however, the stakes are unusually high. The gala is a major money raiser for the opera, and these programs are hard to assemble at the last moment. There was good reason, however, for a strong stand, in each of these instances. For all the admirable effort of men, it is women who keep the arts alive in Dallas and Fort Worth and always have. An affront to them is dangerous.

Just ask oil man Clayton Williams, a certain winner of the governor’s race in Texas several years ago, until he offended women, not with any physical attack that I have ever heard of, but by being rude, crude and boorish. Republican women deserted their party in droves to help elect Democrat Ann Richards.        

Not that it’s easy to be a woman in macho Texas. Some don’t survive, and die too young, or retreat into depression or alcoholism. Those who do survive become gutsy heroines, like Ann Richards, who overcame an addiction to drink, Kay Bailey Hutchison, the former senator and now U.S. ambassador to NATO, or, we now know, Angela Turner Wilson.

As for the Dallas Opera gala, here’s an idea: How about The Three Divas, two sopranos plus a mezzo?  We’ve had enough of the tenors, for now.

Lee Cullum is a veteran journalist and host of KERA TV’s “CEO”.

Lee Cullum was the host of CEO, KERA’s original monthly series of interviews with North Texas business leaders that previously aired on KERA television and radio. She is a commentator for Morning Edition on KERA-FM and contributes columns to The Dallas Morning News. A veteran journalist, Lee was previously a commentator for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and All Things Considered on NPR. In addition, she was editor of the editorial page of the Dallas Times Herald and host of Conversations, a series on KERA with major newsmakers. Lee also worked as a reporter, on-air moderator and executive producer of Newsroom on KERA.