As Domingo returns, a mezzo calls on nameless accusers to come forward

As Domingo returns, a mezzo calls on nameless accusers to come forward


norman lebrecht

August 25, 2019

The Austrian mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Kulman has been in the forefront of several campaigns to protect opera singers from abuse and improve their working conditions. On the day that Placido Domingo returns to the Salzburg Festival in Luisa Miller, Elisabeth discusses his case with the Vienna newspaper, Der Standard.

She recalls the recent downfall of the Erl Festival artistic director Gustav Kuhn, who was forced to resign after five singers stood up and accused him of offences.

Elisabeth Kulman: ‘In the Kuhn cause, which I was allowed to accompany, the women, five in number, went public with an open letter, though with shaking knees, but with full names. This brought a turnaround in its credibility. It took enormous courage, but it paid off. Kuhn’s sexual assaults were officially confirmed and he was suspended…. It is extremely important that those affected step out of their victimhood and thus out of powerlessness and fight for their rights. Our women’s group stands confident and strengthened today. The common destiny has welded them together.’

She is more circumspect about the Domingo incident. Read here.

Last night, the Salzburg Festival gave a dinner in Piotr Beczala’s honour with the Domingos in attendance (below).



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I hope in the new society that emerges from all this, the risks of taking initiative in relationships are equally shared between men & women. There are no more excuses for women to leave all initiative for men. It will be found this is by no means an easy task & mistakes are very easily made (not to speak of clumsy efforts and misunderstandings).

    • Laurence says:

      Yes, women should take an equal initiative when cheating on their spouses. But I fear they’ve got a long way to go to catch up to Domingo’s body count. (By the way, is there a Mrs. Mustafa? Unlikely, but if so, let’s hear from her!)

    • Karl says:

      Won’t that just mean that both sexes will be harassing each other equally? I think the best answer is a separate but equal policy – keep men and women separate! Or maybe we could just stop the rape and sexual harassment hysteria epidemic.

      • Outraged as usual says:

        How about we treat opera and classical music as a workplace, and save the sexual pursuits for the drinks afterward? I as an employee should be allowed to decide when and where someone sexualizes me, and for me to have to deal with it while I am trying to perform in high-stress environments while not insulting these extremely powerful men is extremely difficult. For too long, these powerful men (and women) have treated young artist programs as their dating pool, and companies have only encouraged it. Enough!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It seems like we are in a new Victorian age of uptightness, prudishness and hypocrisy. Who would have thought things would go this way in 1960’s & 70’s.

    • Caravaggio says:

      It seems like we also live in an era of increased and much needed awareness of and action against disparity between men and women in the workplace, from gender discrimination to unfair compensation for equal and comparable work to sexual harassment to abuse of power to glass ceilings and so on. If this is understood to be uptightness, prudishness and hypocrisy, then so be it. But it may be the only way to right the ship. As for Domingo, the careerists around him in that photo ought to be truly ashamed of themselves. And if I were him, I would be unable to look at anyone in the eye or with a straight face. We will see what the “investigation” reveals but I don’t have much hope. After all, the lawyer hired by LAO appears to be a master of spin with some glaring past conflicts of interest in her CV not to mention that she is head of her firm’s Crisis Management practice. And this, I fear, is what it may all boil down to. It’s called POWER and the muscle-ing for continuity.

    • John Borstlap says:

      According to Freud’s ‘Das Unbehagen in der Kultur’, civilizational values can only be maintained through suppression of instincts, which creates neurosis.

      Although his assessment of human nature was quite restricted and primitive, something he observed clearly was correct.

      MeToo will generate a booming market of psychoanalysis.

      • Eye roll says:

        Imagine the amount of psychoanalysis that has flourished among the sexually assaulted and harassed women over the years.

    • Lorna says:

      Denouncing and condemning sexual harassment and other forms of sexual abuse is “uptightness, prudishness and hypocrisy”?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        We are talking about witch hunts and reputational destruction. Nice try, though.

      • Maria says:

        You can always say no in life! This is not about child abuse or minors but grown up adults – or should be grown up. A great time now for the shrinks to earn a mint, particularly in America.

        • Fed Up says:

          Actually, we are talking about women in their early twenties who are first starting out (that is who these men target). They have no tools for rejecting high powered men. They also have been told that they will lose their chance at a career if they reject the men. How is this fair. Keep the sex on the stage and out of the rehearsal rooms!!!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “I like your hair this way”. Screams of sexual harrassment/assault follow. “Would you like to come up to my room?” Screams of rape and sexual abuse follow. Kleiber would have been in a world of trouble in the age of the New Puritanism.

      Girls, all you need to say is “No thank you”, politely. If you comport yourself with self-respect and dignity it follows that others will pick up on that and treat you WITH respect. Conductor or CEO, if they proposition you all you have to do is decline with dignity. Sometimes a little humour also helps.

      Parental guidance and sensible advice is missing in all this, quite obviously. And don’t come back and reply about under-aged victims; they’re not in the same category.

  • Helena says:

    A dinner in Domingo’s honour? The dinner was not in Domingo’s honour, but in honour of the tenor Piotr Beczala. The photo above in it’s original form ( with Mr. Beczala also in the photo!) and other photos taken that evening were shared by Mr. Beczala in his official Instagram account.

    • Maria says:

      Take it you were one of the guests to know?

      • Helena says:

        Maria, if you mean me -no, I wasn’t one of the guests. As I said, Mr. Beczala posted photos of the dinner on Instagram and there is also a photo of the evening’s menu in which you can read the text
        ” Salzburger Festspiele

        Dinner in honour of KS (Kammersänger) Piotr Beczala”.

  • Sandeling says:

    Wrong information. It was a diner in honour of Beczala. You should control your information before publice it.

    • V.Lind says:

      Yup. Another reason to add weight to the claimed “right” of this blog to criticise the methodology of the AP.

  • Scarlet says:

    The Me Too movement has brought about a slew of allegations against powerful men in the music world. No matter who is being accused or what the allegations are, the comments seem to fall into two categories: those who defend the alleged perpetrator and those who believe the accusers.

    Victims find themselves in a difficult position with those that are not inclined to believe any claims of abuse or harassment. This group views anyone making accusations as wanting money or attention if they give their names. However, victims who remain anonymous are deemed as lacking credibility. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Accusers, not the accused, are scorned. “Anonymous attacks” are equated with the Salem witch trials, even though people who accused others of being witches in 1692 were not themselves attacked.

    A question that appears frequently is, “Why did they wait 30 years to come forward?” Also, “If it was such a big deal, why didn’t they say so right away?” The implication is that the allegations must have been recently fabricated. Or, any misconduct by the person in power was consensual, the accuser changed his/her mind and now sees an opportunity for revenge or career advancement.

    It’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to convince anyone to believe and support victims if they don’t already. However, as a survivor of abuse, not by Domingo but by someone else, I do have answers to those questions. Obviously, I can’t speak for every survivor. I can only share my perspective, with the hope that it helps others to understand, if they so choose.

    The desire to remain anonymous is not about victimhood or powerlessness. It’s about protecting oneself against judgment, humiliation and abuse. If an investigation is warranted, law enforcement should have the all of the alleged victims’ names. It’s extremely upsetting to speak to strangers about terrible things from one’s past. That in itself takes courage, even when afforded anonymity publicly. As others have stated, accusers are not anonymous to the reporters or the investigators. I respectfully submit that it’s inappropriate to pressure victims to make their names known to the public when they have a very justifiable fear of the consequences.

    Many survivors come forward reluctantly, and only because as adults, they realize the need to protect others from what they have been through. I never thought my experience was anything other than a private matter. Consciously or unconsciously, I’ve been attempting to process it for decades.

    When the perpetrator is someone known to the victim, self-blame is a normal response, as opposed to an assault by a stranger, which is more likely to create lingering fear in the victim. Deeply rooted shame and self-blame don’t disappear, even with the wisdom of adulthood. Though I have a rational understanding of power imbalances, I still struggle with the feeling that I somehow caused the thing over which I had no control.

    Years ago, I believed someone who said my abuser had changed, probably because that was the only way I could absolve myself of the responsibility to report what he had done. I didn’t speak to a reporter and law enforcement because others were saying Me Too. This started because I was approached by a very close friend who asked if I would speak on the record for an article that was being written about my abuser. After first refusing, I eventually agreed, because recent allegations had come to light and he was still in a position to do harm.

    If I had not been granted anonymity, I would not have spoken to the reporter. I didn’t think the article would have any impact on his career. Shocking as that may sound in the age of Me Too, it illustrates the belief many victims have that what they experienced is not important.

    The trauma I endured at the hands of a trusted mentor has not gone away. It was a long time ago, and I’ve blocked parts of my experience. But I have never forgotten that it happened and I know I never will. I blamed myself, and eventually found a way to cope and get through life. The scandal I worked so hard to hide for fear that it would ruin MY reputation has been known to many of the people around me ever since it happened.

    Aside from the knowledge that my abuser has been stopped, there has been no upside to coming forward for me. It has has forced me to shift my psychological work into high gear, which is not at all enjoyable.

    I have no idea if any civil charges will be filed against my abuser. This is a criminal case, with the outcome still unknown. Fortunately, I’ve been able to replace some of my self-recrimination with disgust for my abuser’s behavior, because it turns out he’s had even more victims than I thought. Despite that knowledge, it gives me no pleasure to imagine him in prison.

    I’ve been disheartened by the backlash against victims in each of these cases, but not surprised. The vile and judgmental comments give me a glimpse into the mind of those who view all alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse as the real victims. I read the negative comments as a way to prepare for the day when I may be required to appear in a courtroom and answer questions from a hostile attorney. Until then, I defend my right to remain an anonymous accuser.

    • Antonio says:

      It is very brave of you to share this. Thank you. I have been disgusted by the attacks against the victims too, and, like you, not surprised. Though I have been a bit shocked when I see some women join in the attacks.

      People need to understand that a victim of abuse has already had so much power taken from them that dictating to them how and when they should report the abuse is a further act of emotional aggression. Someone who has been abused has a right to speak out how and when they are ready, or to not speak out at all.

      People also need to understand that even though there are false sexual abuse accusations, a study of 136 cases reported over a 10-year period found that only between 2% and 10% were false. So that cynicism with which so many people react when they hear an accusation is not justified. I am not saying you must immediately side with the accuser, but to dismiss their accusation just because you feel some sympathy for the accused could end up being a mistake, as we saw with Bill Cosby.

      People need to understand that this is not about money. The AP, per its editorial policy, does not pay any of the sources in their stories. These women already made their accusations, so they are not expecting to get paid by Domingo to go away. I would really like someone to mention just one case of a person that made money out of reporting sexual abuse.

      And people need to understand that yes, the judicial system presumes that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. But the fact that a person makes an accusation and it is reported by the media is not a violation of the presumption of innocence, which applies only in court. Victims have a right to make a public accusation, just as in this case Domingo had a right to issue a statement denying the accusations. If the accusation is presented without any proof or corroboration, then the accused has a right to sue the victim/s and the news organization that reported the accusation. We’ve seen this work in the past.

      In this particular case, I really look forward to Domingo suing the Associated Press. Let them go to court. Let’s hear the statements from the accusers and the more than 30 people interviewed by the AP that corroborated the accusations. Maybe then we will see some justice.

    • Caravaggio says:

      Your nuanced personal anecdote is greatly appreciated and ought to be required reading for any accused abuser’s cheerleaders and enablers. Sincere best wishes to you.

    • Karl says:

      The problem is that so many people LIE. We can’t automatically believe people who claim to be victims because of the liars. People who are falsely accused are victims too. And it’s not easy to tell who is lying either. In research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, subjects were found to “achieve an average of 54% correct lie-truth judgments, correctly classifying 47% of lies as deceptive and 61% of truths as non-deceptive.” That’s not much better than a coin flip.

      • Caravaggio says:

        Few, extremely very few, will issue accusations against the powerful and well connected that are false with the corresponding potential for backfiring on them in criminal court. So your comment doesn’t fly.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Er…not true. Think of “Nick” in the British papers. This view can cause as much harm as the view that all accusers are “on-the-make”. You always have to evaluate each case on its merits.

      • Frida says:

        So many people lie? As someone mentioned by Antonio above, the only known academic study about the subject showed that only between 2% and 10% of cases of sexual abused analysed turned out to be based on false accusations. So no, Karl, you can’t speak about “so many people” lying. They are a minority.

        • Karl says:

          That is not true. Studies compiled by Philip Rumney of the University of the West of England show that between 1.5 % and 90 % of rape accusations are false. Anyone can cherry pick any study to show what they want.

          • Antonio says:

            So I found the study by Rumney and McCartan that you mention above, Karl. It is titled “Purported false allegations of rape, child abuse and non-sexual violence: Nature, characteristics and implications” and it was published in 2017.

            I don’t know if you read it carefully, but either you didn’t understand it or you are misquoting it on purpose.

            The studies compiled by Rumney and McCartan that you are referencing do not “show” anything. Their point is that many of those studies do not follow a scientific method and therefore are not valid.

            Rumney and McCartan do go on to speak about “the most rigorous international studies”, which suggest a false allegation rate between 2% and 10%.

            So basically the study that you mentioned analised many other studies and discredited the one that speaks of 90% false accusations, and supported the one that I mentioned above. Thanks for helping me make my point!

            And here’s another quote from Rumney and McCartan: “The depiction of women as malicious liars is contradicted by existing data which suggests that allegations arising from a malicious motive are a relatively small subset of the total number of false accusations”.

          • Karl says:

            I was not referring to that. I was referring to Rumney, P. (2006). False allegations of rape. Cambridge Law Journal, 65(1).

            Even statistics that show false reports are at 10% are appallingly high. 10% is not rare at all. If 10% of planes crashed no one would fly. False allegations can ruin someone’s life while the false accuser gets anonymity. False accusers are also rarely prosecuted.

      • Alicia Berneche says:

        I am one of the people who went on the record in the Washington Post article. We were vetted several times, required to have verifiable sources from the time period that could back up that we said something AT THAT TIME that something had happened. This was not simply he said-she said. My perpetrator had an MO that he repeated several times, and many women came forward. To claim that any of these men are being brought down by one woman is simply false. And let me tell you, I have received no money, no extra gigs, nothing except a slew of young people looking to me to help them through their own stories of abuse and next steps. I am not sure what benefit you think we receive stepping forward. The reason we do it is not for us, but for the young people coming up.

    • Nijinsky says:

      Thank you for your profound, extremely well thought out response.
      I’m sure many people reading it who are struggling will get help from it. That I’m sure of.

      You wrote:

      “Deeply rooted shame and self-blame don’t disappear, even with the wisdom of adulthood. Though I have a rational understanding of power imbalances, I still struggle with the feeling that I somehow caused the thing over which I had no control.”

      People don’t seem to understand what it really does to someone that is abused in such a manner, and then to have to deal with a system that seems more to perpetuate the problem in saying that it’s fixing it becomes a next horror. I still struggle terribly what the bullying I encountered every day in grade school did to me, the lack of self worth, the idea that I’m somehow a lesser human being because I was (and many times still am) a target for such derision. Something I think any boy still showing signs of being too feminine has to endure, despite the improved climate for accepting such individuality. And if you have lost self respect, or you never were in an environment where you could express how you really felt, how the abuse effected you, never felt safe to share your true feeling, then you have difficulty relating to your feelings about any number of things, when your real feelings would have given you the insight you needed not to get into situation that could be compromising to you, or even do things that are quite degrading to yourself. The inability I had to make healthy decisions is still shocking when I think back on it, or how I could get paranoid out of seemingly nowhere when intimacy was involved, not knowing where the fears came from, why there was such a lack of trust. That’s again not understood, and even the simple fact of a person not being able to express the trauma they encountered years ago, for years laying dormant, exactly because of shame, insecurity and doubt, that again is met with the kind of vile and judgmental comments abundant here also.

      At least those that have experienced such abuse know that trauma is trauma, and it’s not how you create a working society, although it seems to be a hidden ingredient in all levels of people given power in “society”: CEO’s, religious leaders, “politicians,” judges and lawyers. At least we know better than to add to the problem, and having the courage to expose trauma for what it is — whether it’s sexual abuse or someone simply sad because of the state of their working environment, and is supposed to dowse their emotions with supposed privileges they get out of ignoring the problem or “anti-depressants” — we show that trauma is not a method of societal mind control that creates a healthy community. You can express it and survive. And thrive even.

  • Jenny Wohlwend says:

    I would like to point out, that this dinner was given in honour of Piotr Beczala and NOT of Placido Domingo!