Plácido Domingo: The Brilliant ‘Cash Cow’ the Met Opera Protected—Until It Cost Them Too Much

Placido Domingo performing for the LA Opera.
Photo: Getty

Late Tuesday, opera megastar Plácido Domingo stepped down from his upcoming performances at the Metropolitan Opera, following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Though Domingo continues to dispute the stories of almost two dozen women, as he has since the allegations first appeared, he said his presence in the production of Macbeth would “distract from the hard work” of his colleagues. In response, the Met issued a press release that seemed to imply that the opera house had asked him to leave. “The Metropolitan Opera confirms that Plácido Domingo has agreed to withdraw from all future performances at the Met, effective immediately,” read the statement. “The Met and Mr. Domingo are in agreement that he needed to step down.”

This is uncanny, as on Saturday, mere days before, Met general manager Peter Gelb reportedly met with employees to explain why the opera house hadn’t done a damn thing about the allegations, and why it would continue along this path: No investigation, no suspension, nothing. In the process, Gelb waved off 20 women’s strikingly similar allegations of mistreatment—including groping, sexual coercion, and career retribution—as simply not convincing enough, according to NPR.

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When NPR reported late Monday on the Met meeting, it seemed a depressing testament to how twenty women’s allegations, documented and corroborated in a pair of deeply reported Associated Press articles, faired against a world-renowned classical musician, mainstream breakout star, and money-making powerhouse. As a woman chorister told NPR, “Plácido Domingo is a huge cash cow, and sometimes I feel like management cares more about money and reputation.” But how quickly the financial calculus can change: The story started to gain traction in the press, thanks to the NPR article, as internal and external outrage continued to build. Perhaps Domingo, the cash cow, was now costing them too much. Now it’s: buh-bye.

Certainly, this turnabout isn’t about ethics or justice, it isn’t about the emergence of new, more convincing evidence—because the evidence has stayed the same, and the evidence was always convincing. Gelb’s days-ago take on the allegations are something of a #MeToo post-mortem, a case study in how accused men either escape, or are made to face, professional consequences.

In NPR’s piece, reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas spoke with four anonymous employees in attendance at the Saturday Met meeting, which was held following employees’ public complaints about being made to work with Domingo. The employees alleged that Gelb said he hadn’t taken action against the singer “in part because the women came forward only to the AP and not to other credible news outlets as well.” (In an amusing aside, NPR reported, “The staffers said that one of the media organizations that Gelb specifically cited was The New York Times, where Gelb’s father, the late Arthur Gelb, served as managing editor.”) Gelb also “felt that the AP’s reporting lacked ‘corroboration,’” said NPR. Additionally, Geld allegedly “asserted on Saturday that all the women who spoke to the AP came forward anonymously, which he believes lessens the veracity of their allegations” and “asserted that a makeup artist denied [one woman’s] account of Domingo suddenly reaching into her costume and ‘groping’ her bare breast ‘hard,’ causing her to cry out.”

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There are many factual inaccuracies in Gelb’s reported defense of the Met’s protection of Domingo. It is not uncommon for a single media outlet to own the reporting of a high-profile story. Also, while the New York Times did break the Harvey Weinstein story, it hardly has a monopoly on credible stories of sexual misconduct. To the point of credibility, the AP reporters worked to corroborate the claims and provided evidence of it in their articles, as is standard journalistic practice. As NPR pointed out, the AP spoke “to nearly three dozen people who said that they witnessed ‘inappropriate sexually tinged behavior’ by Domingo.” Additionally, the majority of the twenty accusers were granted anonymity, due to fears of career reprisal, but two women have indeed spoken on the record. Lastly, a makeup artist didn’t deny the woman’s allegation of having her bare breast violently, and painfully, groped; the makeup artist denied having a memory of the incident and declined to comment. But even correcting these points seems like engaging in a bad faith argument, because was it ever truly about credibility?

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The discussion doesn’t just represent a mishandling of facts, here we get to witness the profound availability—one might even say creative deployment—of doubt in the case of a talented, famous, and highly profitable man accused of sexual harassment by 20 women. Twenty. With nearly three dozen witnesses of “inappropriate” behavior, it’s difficult to comprehend the logical leaps required to merely brush aside the appearance of a pattern. But it doesn’t matter because the New York Times didn’t report on it? Because the majority of the accusers asked for anonymity out of fear for their musical careers?

For decades, Domingo’s career has been protected over the careers of the women who allegedly were pressured into sex out of fear for their jobs or suffered reprisals for refusing him. As that first AP article reported, “Seven of Domingo’s nine accusers told the AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after rejecting his advances.” One accuser put it like so: “He used his power, he stalked women, he put women in positions of vulnerability. People have dropped out of the business and been just erased because of submitting or not submitting to him.” In another case, a woman alleges that she was pressured into sex with Domingo, who told her of his “‘superstition that he had to be with a woman before a show to help him relax and calm his nerves.” She alleges that he said, “I will sing better—and it will all be because of you.”

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Throughout the many allegations against Domingo there is this common thread of women being treated as the necessary casualties of his influence, art, and money-making powers. There were the whispers and warnings, the turning of a blind eye and sigh-shrugs of that’s just how he is. There were the creative methods—dressing room lookouts, avoidance of certain bathrooms—that his women co-workers allegedly deployed just to be able to keep doing their jobs without threatening his job. Notably absent in the Met’s initial response was a concern for the careers, influence, and art of the women who would be forced to work alongside him in the coming weeks as the opera house cashed in on Domingo’s star power and played wait-and-see with outside investigations.

The calculus behind whether a man suffers real #MeToo career consequences isn’t always based on a weighing of facts or a preponderance of evidence, but rather whether the folks with decision-making power feel they can afford to lose him. Or, perhaps in this case, keep him.

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