Monday, October 21, 2019

Placido Domingo: Another Scalp for #MeToo

If ever you should want to see Placido Domingo perform, you will need to leave the country. The #MeToo movement has destroyed Domingo’s American career. Only the Europeans and perhaps Asians will still hire him to sing grand opera.

So, #MeToo has claimed another scalp, and has brought down another powerful man on the basis of anonymous charges, most of which do not seem extremely horrific. And yet, in the #MeToo era, unwanted sexual advances are conflated with felonious rape… and, off with their heads. So to speak. 

If you imagine that these episodes are going to improve relations between the sexes in America, you are smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes. Antagonistic hostility provokes antagonistic hostility. Perhaps not in the workplace, but men and women interact outside of the workplace too. 

Heather Mac Donald reports the story for Quillette:

On August 13, 2019, however, the AP announced that nine females, all but one anonymous, were accusing Domingo of making unwanted sexual advances decades ago. The accusers—chorus singers, a few small-time soloists, and one ballet dancer—alleged wet kisses, solicitations to rehearse at his apartment, whispered blandishments while on stage, a hand down a shirt or up a skirt in cabs, and persistent phone calls.

The latest of the incidents allegedly occurred in the early 2000s; most dated from the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the accusers had had voluntary sexual liaisons with the singer, yet still asserted victimhood. An anonymous singer with LA Opera claimed that in 1998, after they kissed on his couch, he undressed her in his bedroom for a session of “heavy petting” and “groping.” A mezzo soprano in the chorus of LA Opera slept with Domingo in 1991 at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and at his apartment. After those two encounters, she cut off physical contact. The one named accuser, soprano Patricia Wulf, said that he never touched her, but used to whisper in her ear backstage: “Do you have to go home tonight?”

We are not dealing with Bill Clinton here. Mac Donald believes that most of the overtures were more charming than hostile. Besides, Domingo never really pressed his entreaties:

By all accounts, Domingo backed off when told explicitly to do so. None of the accusers alleged quid pro quo pressure to have sex in exchange for a role. Some alleged that their careers plateaued after they broke off relations, without providing any evidence that he was responsible or that their careers were still on an upward trajectory. Nevertheless, the claim that he sometimes “professionally punished those who rejected him,” in the words of the New York Times, has now become a standard feature of the anti-Domingo narrative.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that anyone was professionally punished for turning down the charming lothario.

And yet, young women came forth to claim that Domingo’s mere presence was so threatening that it prevented them from performing. Seeing him, knowing he was going to be on stage, traumatized them… and thus, he had to be erased:

Without waiting to hear more, the Philadelphia Orchestra booted him from its season-opening gala because, it said, it was “committed to providing a safe, supportive, respectful, and appropriate environment for the orchestra and staff, for collaborating artists and composers, and for our audiences and communities.” The San Francisco Opera also cancelled Domingo’s upcoming engagements. LA Opera launched an investigation and suspended Domingo from day-to-day management. The Metropolitan Opera, where Domingo was scheduled to sing the title role of Verdi’s Macbeth in September, announced that it would await the Los Angeles investigation’s outcome before deciding Domingo’s fate….

But Domingo’s overtures to certain women were “common knowledge,” they said; some females allegedly avoided one-on-one situations with the singer. One anonymous orchestra member said that another instrumentalist was calling in sick to avoid working with Domingo; the anonymous orchestra source felt “livid” about having to perform in his presence. “I feel queasy in the pit during rehearsals, seeing him onstage,” she said.

What does it mean to be strong and empowered if the mere presence of a certain man causes you to wilt like a flower or to melt like a snowflake?

Why is Domingo being punished for deeds that occurred decades ago:

There are three possible justifications for Domingo’s scourging, each more unpersuasive than the last. The first is to punish his past behavior. But his alleged infractions occurred decades ago, making punishment too belated to be just or meaningful. None of his accusers brought their objections to anyone in authority. If they wanted to punish him, that would have been the time to do so. Now, the overwhelmingly anonymous nature of the accusations and the passage of time prevent Domingo from mounting a defense. Some of the alleged incidents were undoubtedly more ambiguous than the accusers are disclosing. But without a known accuser, Domingo cannot establish the facts of these incidents, even if he could remember what may have been a fleeting and misunderstood gesture.

The second justification is a symbolic one: to demonstrate feminist solidarity. According to the New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera needed to show its “commitment” to “protecting women and rooting out sexual harassment” by ejecting Domingo. But such expressions of piety should not take precedence over getting the facts right, and none of the institutions that pushed Domingo out the door established any factual record.

The third justification is the most frequently invoked: safety. Domingo’s mere presence in an opera house or concert hall allegedly puts the safety of that venue’s female employees at risk. The threat extends beyond the stage. It sinks into the orchestra pit like a miasma. It overflows into the audience and the surrounding community. You can be in the top tier of the Philadelphia’s Kimmel Hall or miles out on the Main Line, and still at risk of the toxic effects of Domingo’s masculinity, according to the Philadelphia Orchestra. The threat extends across the entire music world. In August, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing opera soloists, choristers and ballet dancers, announced it would “closely monitor the situation,” and was “making the safety of our members our first priority.”

If the accusers are anonymous and if they cannot show how they were specifically damaged for rejected Domingo, what are we talking about? Feminist solidarity is the weakest rationale. After all, does this warlock hunt make feminists look good? Does it make them appear to be defending women? Does it make them seem powerful? Or does it make them seem weak, vulnerable and petulant. 

True power and true authority in the world involves what you can build. You do not look powerful when you destroy what other people have built.

Happily, Mac Donald offers a woman’s perspective… or better, puts it all in perspective:

This idea that Domingo poses a current risk to females even in his immediate orbit is pure hysteria. Domingo is a near-octogenarian. The most recent allegations against him, even if they constituted an actual danger at the time, date from over 15 years ago. After those allegations belatedly surfaced, his every movement would have been under a microscope. Were Domingo still inclined at his age to make advances, it would have taken a suicidal recklessness to engage in any behavior that could be massaged into a harassment incident. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that he let slip, even now, an appreciative glance or ambiguous compliment. Are we supposed to believe, in this era of “strong women,” that a female chorister is so vulnerable and weak that, faced with someone who is operating under a potential death sentence, she can’t simply rebuff an advance? Domingo’s 20 accusers somehow survived the trauma of being propositioned by one of the opera world’s most charismatic stars. Why would the trauma today be so much more lethal to require proleptically snuffing out a still fertile career?

And, let us not forget the women who were throwing themselves at Domingo, who went to great lengths to seduce him. It is not a one-way street.

Put males and females in any high-pressure, close-contact situation, and Eros will make an immediate appearance—just ask the spouses of lawyers in white shoe law firms or of soldiers in gender-integrated Army barracks. In the performing arts, filled with oversized personalities and appetites, the erotic currents are particularly headstrong. Females threw themselves at Domingo. Young fans pled with his assistants to get their phone numbers into his hands. Wealthy socialites tried to arrange affairs. Singers sought out liaisons. Many of their advances were unwelcome. Does that make his suitors harassers? This kind of female behavior is routinely excised from the #MeToo narrative that presents a world apparently composed exclusively of male rapists and female victims, and which declines to acknowledge the billions of dollars that women invest annually in make-up and clothes they hope will make them more desirable to the opposite sex.

And Mac Donald explains how adult women normally respond to unwanted advances:

As the object of so much sexual attention, Domingo could have been forgiven for thinking that his own advances were part of the mix. He clearly belongs to the “Latin Lover” prototype, a good-natured, charming seducer from the old Hollywood era. Learning to deal with such types used to be part of a woman’s skill set. The instigator of a sexual advance does not know beforehand whether it will be wanted or not; he (or she) is taking a chance. It is up to the target of that advance to signal how it has been received. If the would-be seducer does not back off, the seducee needs to escalate to whatever level of explicitness is required, however uncomfortable it may be to elevate what is unspoken and ambiguous into the realm of language and clarity. Rebuffing an advance from a superior is particularly difficult. But, as noted, Domingo appears to have dropped his petitions when told to do so and did not exert quid pro quo pressure. If all else fails, avoidance is the fallback strategy: turning one’s head to avoid a kiss, or staying far enough away to avoid charged interaction.

So, Mac Donald calls for a little perspective. Should we erase a man’s lifetime of achievements because a few women have come forth anonymously to accuse him of making unwanted advances. Is private behavior, even bad private behavior, sufficient cause to shun an individual from polite society for all time? Here she makes a salient point. We need to keep some perspective, and not to judge people entirely and exclusively on the basis of their private behavior:

It is a grotesque inversion of the proper hierarchy between public accomplishment and private sexual behavior to sacrifice an artist of Domingo’s stature for the sake of 20 disgruntled bit players, laboriously harvested from thousands of professional interactions characterized by graciousness and consideration. Put simply, the discomfort of these belated accusers decades ago is not worth Domingo’s head. Civilization rests on the realm of public achievement in ideas, politics, and art. The private realm of Eros should be subordinate to the public realm; how someone behaves in or getting to the bedroom is irrelevant to his achievements in the public square, absent criminality. If we discovered that James Madison, say, was a skirt-chaser, that fact should have no bearing on his achievements as a political theorist and statesman.

If you want to see Domingo perform, you will probably need to leave the country:

At least cowardice in the face of feminist grievance appears to be predominantly an Anglo-American affliction. So far, Domingo’s future engagements in Moscow, Vienna, Hamburg, Valencia, Milan, Cologne, Krakow, Berlin, Madrid, and Munich have not been cancelled. The director of the Vienna State Opera, Dominique Meyer, said over the summer that Vienna would honor its contracts with Domingo, who is “valued both artistically and as a human being by all in this house.”


UbuMaccabee said...

I knew you would find this, Stuart. Bravo.

Heather MacDonald is superlative as usual, but unfortunately reporting on a terribly depressing case.

I'm glad I saw Placido in Los Angeles shortly after he took the reins over there. It looks like it might have been my last chance to see the greatest tenor of our time. I do travel to Mexico, Spain, and Brazil quite a bit, and those nations are still normal regarding the nature of men and women, and all of them would consider it a great honor to have Placido Domingo in attendance, whatever his role. I'll be at the Dallas Opera this Wednesday and I'll ask around if Placido is banned. Atlanta Opera is next week, and I'll find out if Tomer Zvulun has a position on the matter. I'd love to have Placido in Dixie. We'll show him the adoration and respect he deserves.

Whose's next? Ted Williams? Fiorello La Guardia? Enrique Caruso? Duke Ellington? Louis Armstrong? Henry Fonda?

Wait, it is very widely known that Mohammed Ali was an incorrigible womanizer, even including charges of forced sex. Same with MLK. I wonder why those guys are off-limits?

I hate what our culture has become.

Sam L. said...

Where are all these "strong, empowered women" I've been told about for years? Was this a lie, or just a feminist fantasy?

UbuMaccabee said...

Who’s. Sorry. It bothers me.