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Opera singers on sexual assault allegations facing Placido Domingo

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Opera singers on sexual assault allegations facing Placido Domingo
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Accusations of sexual harassment against opera star Placido Domingo did not stop the audience at Salzburg Festival giving the Spaniard a standing ovation.

He played to a packed room in Verdi's opera "Luisa Miller" on Sunday — his first show since nine women accused him of sexual harassment.

Read more: Opera star Placido Domingo accused of sexual assault and harassment dating back three decades

Eight singers and one dancer have spoken out against the opera star, who denies the allegations.

Domingo's welcome in Salzburg comes in strong contrast to the US — San Francisco Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra cancelled concerts with the singer.

"Though the alleged incidents reported did not take place at San Francisco Opera, the Company is unable to present the artist on the War Memorial Opera House stage," the former wrote in a statement as it cancelled a show.

Euronews spoke to two opera singers who have worked with Domingo as well as an opera student who has experience in the industry — their names have been changed due to their wish to remain anonymous.

Lydia* is from Asia and works in an Italian opera house. She worked with Domingo and met him twice privately.

"He's a bit of a womaniser, but he's funny and it did not bother me," she told Euronews.

"Domingo is like opera's Michael Jackson — he's more powerful than others," she said.

'He is a gentleman'

Emily*, a professional opera singer since 2003, who has worked in a London house since 2011, was of a different opinion, saying: "He's a gentleman."

"He is a very sweet man. I had a nice conversation with him about music, his thoughts and what he wants to do in America. He is very generous and so extremely talented."

Emily said she hasn't had a negative experience with either Domingo or any other colleagues.

"I talked to him personally backstage, in our office, but in a very professional way. I talk to a lot of artists, some of them are a little friendlier and more involved, but it's always 100% professional," she told Euronews.

"Some may have different barriers to you, but in general, they are all very respectful and professional. Remember, we are used to a lot more physical contact in this industry than in other professions."

Someone has to hold your hand, your arm or put their arms around you — these situations are commonplace, but in other jobs, they are not," she explained.

Sarah* is an aspiring opera singer in her last year of training at a German university. She knows about unpleasant situations for singers and attacks.

'Most of the time agents ask for your phone number during auditions'

"Many in positions of power are bad-tempered, and the way that they react when they are rejected is questionable," she said. "A director once told us that you can refuse nude scenes, but it does not go down well."

Lydia echoed this sentiment: "Others that have not been talked about are far worse than him (Domingo)," she said. "Most of the time agents ask for your phone number during auditions and it's hard to refuse important managers, especially foreigners."

#MeToo reaches the opera world

The hashtag #MeToo stems from a 2018 campaign by actress Alyssa Milano in which she encouraged women to share their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse.

Only now has the movement spilt over into the opera world.

Many would not dare say anything because of the competitive nature of the business, according to Sarah.

"Unfortunately, there are too many soloists and no union for them, and I think there are many who do not dare to speak out," she said.

The reason? Many have no contract, working as freelancers they rely on the favour of agents and directors.

"It's a tricky business," said Emily. She believes that in the opera industry it is even harder than other similar industries because roles are clearly gendered. "You cannot give a man's role to a woman or vice versa," she explained.

"I do not think our industry is different, there are people like this everywhere (who use their positions of power to exploit others). I'm glad that women are coming forward, that they want to be heard and seen and I'm sure this is something (sexual harassment) that still exists but I have no experience with it," explained Emily.

'I think the opera world is saddened to see these allegations have been made'

While US opera houses cancelled his shows, several Spanish singers have publicly sided with Domingo and he been warmly received in Hungary as well as Austria.

"I think he is a very straightforward person," said Emily. "If it turns out that there is overwhelming evidence to support the allegations, it's a real shame."

"He has been an important part of the opera world for many, many years, and is much respected and loved by many, and I think the opera world is saddened to see these allegations have been made."

"Until there has been a proper trial, he should be able to continue his career and his life," she added. "It's unfair to throw him in front of a bus just because someone says something that has not been properly investigated."

"It is really harmful to him and his career, and I support the European houses that support him."

What impact could the allegations have on the opera world?

Emily still considers discussions about sexual harassment in the opera industry to be meaningful and necessary, adding that they will help to change the environment for the better.

For Sarah, the debate also shows the imbalance in gender distribution among directors in the opera world. She hopes this will change in the future by opening up dialogue on the matter.

What has Domingo said?

Domingo did not respond to detailed questions about specific incidents but issued a statement saying: “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.

“Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone."