Why I never warmed to Placido Domingo

Why I never warmed to Placido Domingo


norman lebrecht

November 29, 2019

The singer was cheered to the rafters last night at the Elbphilpharmonie in Hamburg. In Europe and Asia he remains an epic hero, despite the tacit ban in the US following a spate of nameless allegations published by the Associated Press.

I have been among his more outspoken defenders, despite many personal reservations about him.

In a new essay for The Critic, I try to explain why.


the facts don’t fit the (AP) story. There is no sign Domingo ever bothered to give a bad report to a soprano who turned him down. Plácido’s propositions were, anyway, something of a backstage joke. Like many a Latin male singer, he was a compulsive importuner of women, capable in dim light of whispering sweet nothings to a curvaceous lamppost.

Women may have found him a bit of a nuisance but he was shadowed pretty much everywhere by his possessive wife, Marta, and his schedule was never less than punishing. Opportunity was scarce and swift. Some ribald jokes did the rounds.

The other side of Domingo, which I have observed from my first encounter with him in 1985 on the set of Zeffirelli’s film Otello…

Read on here.


  • rustier spoon says:

    Interesting that you are in some future time zone Norman…this article was written next month!

  • anon says:

    “Domingo’s place in history is secure, and mostly for the right reasons. The wrong ones will soon be forgotten.”

    That’s because you assume future generations will be just like your generation. Today, millennials are consumed by climate and economic inequality. Not even on their list of concerns is classical music, much less opera, much less Domingo. He will be forgotten.

    • Francesca says:

      “Not even on their list of concerns is classical music, much less opera, much less Domingo.”

      There is nothing to be proud of

    • BP says:

      Past generations, of course, were utterly disinterested in politics and concerned only with the finer things.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Millennials will need all the luck in the world to deal with just one of these!! But, they’ve got more than enough grievance to fill a planet. Not like the oldies, aye, whose relatives fought and died in WW2 – they just had it waaaaay too easy, as did their children – who built post-war prosperity.

      Millennials would have loved living in the soviet union where everybody had a job and nobody did anything!! The state controlled everything, especially communications!!

    • Harpsi says:

      Re: “Not even on their list of concerns is classical music, much less opera, much less Domingo.”
      But equal treatment IS on their list of concerns

  • Paul Dawson says:

    “Like many a Latin male singer…” Imagine the outrage if, instead of “Latin”, you had used “African-American”, “Jewish”, “Muslim”, “red-headed”, “overweight”, “bisexual” etc etc.

    • TheWoman says:

      You are right. Only “Latin male” will be accepted and still assumption would be a Spaniard male, not Mexican male- as this would be crossing the political correctness firewall. I prefer men who notice women, who court and flirt and compliment women. Asexual behavior of males is what scares me.

      • Fan says:

        Care to elaborate? Also is there any asexual opera I can go to?

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          There were once: the Castrati operas of Handel. Alas, sex is everywhere now and nobody is doing anything about it!!!

          • Diane Valerie says:

            Castrati had a lot more fun than you might think. They served as a form of safe sex for18th century ladies and were sex objects for aristocrats of all persuasions.

  • Victoria says:

    Mr. Lebrecht, I noticed this from your article, I quote: “I initially assisted the AP in confirming some of their suspicions, hoping that by doing so I could help clear the decks of some fairly notorious musical sex pests.”

    What were you thinking? How foolish of you. Have you realized you have been used?

  • Joe says:

    Norman, I read your essay. I agree that the illegitimate outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election has enraged a large percentage of our populace, men and women. It may be true that our frustration with the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief has led us to seek justice elsewhere. But Americans as a whole are not keeping tRump in power. It’s the Republicans in the Senate who are afraid of tRump’s base and losing reelection. Unfortunately for them and therefore the rest of us, Republicans have been counting on those hardcore loonies since the time of Ronald Reagan.

    Where I take issue is when you write “the facts don’t fit the story.” We really can’t know how Domingo affected the careers of singers unless we were in the meetings when casting decisions were made. And we can assume that in those meetings, Domingo would never have said he was giving a bad report to a soprano because she turned him down. Music is a very subjective field.

    You write, “Women may have found him a bit of a nuisance but he was shadowed pretty much everywhere by his possessive wife, Marta, and his schedule was never less than punishing. Opportunity was scarce and swift.”

    To me, this shows a lack of empathy and understanding of how harassment can occur. It doesn’t take a great deal of time to put the moves on someone. He had plenty of opportunity, busy as he was. He wasn’t interested in long-term commitments with those he propositioned. Why do you think Marta was so vigilant? She didn’t trust him implicitly.

    You might view unwanted sexual advances as “a bit of a nuisance,” but to those whom he targeted, Domingo’s abuse of power was more damaging than that. They were torn between wanting to think they were somehow special, “chosen” by the charming star, and the knowledge that “he was a compulsive importuner of women, capable in dim light of whispering sweet nothings to a curvaceous lamppost.” (I admit, I liked that line!) Whether these women said yes or no, they were ashamed and humiliated by his inappropriate treatment. The lack of professionalism and respect from Domingo would likely cause them to question their value as a singer.

    As a society, we don’t yet know how to handle this Me Too movement. Many Europeans view us as hypocritical puritans, but I don’t think that’s accurate. The pendulum is moving, thanks in large part to journalists. I, for one, am glad a light is finally being shone on the issue of those who abuse their power for sexual gratification. At least now, we can try to work on the problem, instead of saying it doesn’t exist or wouldn’t be a big deal if it happened to us.

    • John Rook says:

      Still sour about being on the losing side?

      • Joe says:

        Sour is an understatement. Horrified, apoplectic, and despairing is more like it. In 2016, we realized that 40% of voters were people we would have previously considered “fringe.” Overt racism, misogyny, and corruption are now sanctioned. It’s terribly depressing.

        • Stuart says:

          Who is “we”. It feels like you are falling into Hillary’s “deplorables” trap. The United States isn’t very united anymore. Too much focus on the extremes (left and right) while most of the country is just trying to live a decent life. I find I am much happier not being on social media (especially Twitter) and avoiding cable news. Me Too is a serious movement but with upsides and downsides. It is interesting the different ways that the US and Europe have reacted to the accusations against Domingo. But in the long run, Domingo and classical music are irrelevant to 99.9% of humans. Joe, I feel sad that you see things as horrific, apoplectic, despairing and depressing. That’s no way to live, so more Verdi and Mozart (or whatever floats your boat) and less Twitter and MSNBC. And get around the US and get to know all of those decent folks who live between the extremes of New York and California (very odd places indeed.) I worked in NYC for 10 years, and lived in California for 5 years, but am much happier now living just south of Nashville.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Isn’t it dreadful having to share your democracy with people whose IQs are lower than yours?!! I remember one European leader who once tried to do something about that.

    • Guest says:

      Unable to accept that there are people who disagree with you and the need to insult them is the political epidemic of the 21st century.

    • V. Lind says:

      I think this is one of the most intelligent responses to this sad debate so far.

      On the whole I liked Mr. Lebrecht’s article. But once again he is — inexplicably for an ex-newspaper man — blaming the messenger: “This, in a nutshell, is AP’s justification for pursuing Domingo…”

      I have never heard of AP trying to “justify” its reports. And I hardly think two articles, both well-researched and -documented, constitute “pursuing” someone. AP has moved on. Domingo apologists have not.

      I also think the very fact that Mr.Domingo was artistic director of two opera companies means he had implicit control over hiring singers. To what extent he used it, and with what motives, we will never know.

      It seems unlikely that Domingo was a violent or rapacious sexual predator. Whether the anti-racist brigade like it or not, there is a stereotype known as “Latin lover” that many Latin artists have — often good-humouredly — tried to play to — think of Julio Iglesias, Fernando Lamas, etc. He may well have been a part of that largely bygone culture. But the drip-drip-drip of sexual byplay in the workplace has a deleterious effect on the recipient, and over recent decades — long before MeToo — women (and some men) have been trying to get it OUT of the workplace. MeToo has just finally, in frustration, taken it forward.

      We HAVE to move forward. Police used to ignore “domestics,” and families used to encourage daughters to “stick it out” with bullying husbands. But long before the burning bed there was pushback. Domestic violence is now met with sympathy — and action, from divorce to courts. Stalking used to be met with a casual warning not to do it again or a reprimand — now it is met with restraining orders and sometimes prison sentences. All people are entitled to dignity and security.

      I doubt Domingo ever threatened the latter, though there have been questions raised about employment that have not seemed to be very widespread. But there MUST have been an atmosphere of the former for distinguished, sober, profit-and-reputation-conscious organisations to have cut ties with him. He himself used the word “atmosphere” after the Met severance.

      If he ever misbehaved in Europe it looks as if he is unlikely to do so now — he is not a fool, and anno domini must finally kick in! If he behaves himself in his remaining venues, he may well indeed put this unfortunate year behind him.

  • We privatize your value says:

    “He always seemed to be trying just that bit too hard to be liked.”

    Funny, exactly the same thing is said about Novak Djokovic! Is Domingo the Djokovic to Pavarotti’s Federer? And Carreras would be Nadal… this is getting ridiculous… 🙂

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    He was a very great singer, that is what counts.For that he deserves respect & gratitude. Everyone has personal flaws, including the greatest composers (but not as much as some of the great painters & writers, some of whom had totally deplorable characters).

    • Mike Schachter says:

      How true, in Vienna at the moment there is an exhibition combining Caravaggio and Bernini, two supreme artists and undoubted psychopaths

    • We privatize your value says:

      Difficult to have a more deplorable character than Richard Wagner, though, unless you like antisemitic misogynists who betray the friendship and trust of patrons and colleagues. I am aware that some people find these traits of Wagner’s character not repulsive but admirable, because that other great German, Martin Luther, had the same.

  • sycorax says:

    “Women may have found him a bit of a nuisance …” and because you think he was only “a bit of a nuisance” the women shouldn’t cry and complain?

    I think this statement lacks empathy. Obviously you can’t image how it feels when someone harasses you, but I remember only too well. I thought things like “He knows I’m married – what does he take me for? A loose woman who cheat on her husband at the first opportunity?” And I wondered what I’d done wrong for making such an impression. It was a highly humiliating experience because in what men like Domingo name “flirting” is such a lack of respect! It’s making women to sex objects – and that’s something I don’t think women should experience at their work place.

    For years men have told us: “He may be a bit of a nuisance, but don’t take it so seriously! He doesn’t use force, it’s just a bit of flirting.” But now I ask you: Why should we deal with it? Why shouldn’t we have the right to feel respected and protected at our work places?

    I know hardly a woman who never felt harassed. We’ve learnt to deal with it. Yet it’s time to do something that our daughters and granddaughters mustn’t learn, that they get at least surroundings in which they aren’t reduced on ar… and t…!

    • Jack says:

      Perhaps it would be best if men simply ignored women altogether and amused themselves exclusively by listening to classical music or [for the lower orders] playing video games. Increasing numbers of men are making this choice.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I never considered the attention of any man ‘harassment’, unless he was overtly vile, crude and perverted. The nuisances could usually (well, always) be dissuaded with a bit of laughter and good humor. Since most of them (all, actually) lacked a sense of humor this was the big opportunity for purposes of deterrence. From victim to winner; give it a go!!

    • George says:

      What exactly do you suggest? No flirting at any workplace?

    • an empathetic person says:

      With all due respect and trying to be as empathetic as possible. If someone, a man or woman treats someone like this- I mean flirting even with the married but in a none physically aggressive way- an equal response is not to publicly shame that person and effectively ban them from their gainful means of employment. Especially for events that took place many years BEFORE a culture shift. I think they should be humiliated sure, but to ostracize them is truly puritanical. Something that should have been left in the early days of America. Harsh punishment should go to the Weinsteins as they deserve such, but this is a different story. I mean this for both men and women offenders.

    • Phillipe says:

      Neo-Victorianism …

  • Tim says:

    Good article,

    Whether Domingo or not deserves the excommunication in the US that he has received I don’t know and no one else who wasn’t there knows either.

    This case is not as extreme in the supposed abuses that where commited, nor as substantiated by open rumors as the cases of Levine and Dutoit were.

  • Calvin says:

    Right. Just like the man said: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

  • Medea says:

    Bravo! Double bravo regarding the bankers and other unmentionables – they ARE a problem!

  • fierywoman says:

    I’d like to throw a wrench in the works. There is a third side to this debacle. My experience in over six years at L A Opera: Domingo was fun to flirt with.
    I do not, however, doubt the validity of my sisters’ complaints: we’re all different and we all perceive things differently.

  • Anon says:

    Terrific article, Norman! I like everything you’ve said very much. Well done, and thank you!

  • Bruce says:

    I never warmed to him because I always found his singing too self-conscious. Even in his early recordings he sounds like he’s making sure to prolong his career as much as possible. To my ear, he never sounded like he was singing with abandon or emotion — it always sounded like he was thinking “If I do this with my voice, then it will sound like abandon.” I’m definitely able & willing to admire his singing, but I’m not really able to enjoy it.

    Oh well. He seems to have managed pretty well without me 😛

    • Jack says:

      So, if you had it your way, singers would simply burn out after a few years like Di Stefano? Sounds like an idiotic career path to me.

      • Bruce says:

        Yes, that would be an unfortunate career path, which many have unfortunately followed (Elena Souliotis, anyone?).

        No, in my ideal world singers (and other musicians) would have sufficient artistry to make their use of technique less apparent. I always thought Mirella Freni was a master of this, and she had a very long career.

  • Claudio says:

    So it’s fine that he was “a compulsive importuner of women”, in other words, a sex pest and a pig, as long as he then didn’t block the careers of women who rejected him?

    I was going to suggest that the author of this article and many of the people who comment on this website need some sort of gender sensitivity training — but the truth is there is not training to become a decent person. If you didn’t learn to treat all human beings with dignity and respect whilst growing up, it’s probably too late now.