SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The words “I am truly sorry” have not been uttered often in the #MeToo era. So when soprano Luz del Alba Rubio woke up Tuesday to see an apology from opera superstar Placido Domingo, she was in shock.
“I felt like we have conquered Goliath. Now we don’t have to be scared to speak out,” said Rubio, who stepped forward Tuesday to add her voice to the women accusing the legendary tenor of sexual harassment and abuse of power.
Domingo’s statement came after the U.S. union that represents much of the opera world said its investigators found the opera star and former general director at Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera had behaved inappropriately over the course of two decades.
“I have taken time over the last several months to reflect on the allegations that various colleagues of mine have made against me,” Domingo said in a statement issued in connection with the findings. “I respect that these women finally felt comfortable enough to speak out, and I want them to know that I am truly sorry for the hurt that I caused them. I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I have grown from this experience.”
The words marked a stunning reversal from the opera superstar’s initial statements, tinged with disbelief at the accusations reported last year by The Associated Press that he sexually harassed multiple women.
“I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual,” he said in August.
In September, when the AP reported on more accusations, Domingo called the claims “riddled with inconsistencies and, as with the first story, in many ways, simply incorrect.”
The full results of the investigation by the American Guild of Musical Artists investigation have not been made public, but people familiar with the findings told the AP that investigators found 27 people who said they were sexually harassed or witnessed inappropriate behavior by Domingo.
As with the accusations made to the AP, the investigation found that the allegations included unsolicited physical touching that ranged from kisses on the mouth to groping, late-night phone calls in which Domingo asked women to come to his residence, and inviting women to go out with him socially with such persistence that some felt they were being stalked, the people familiar with the findings said.
The investigation, conducted by lawyers from the firm Cozen O’Conner, found the accusations to be credible and showed a clear pattern of abuse of power by Domingo that spanned the 1990s and 2000s, according to the people familiar with its contents who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the findings.
Rubio said Domingo’s apology was deeply appreciated, but also called it clearly the work of lawyers and lacking in conviction.
“Before, he was a denier. Then, he was a victim. Now, he is looking for redemption,” said Rubio, a soprano from Uruguay. “If he means it, if he is really sorry, I would ask him to apologize to us, face to face. There have been women suffering for 20 years. He should ask for our forgiveness.”
Rubio said she was in her 20s and singing in Rome in 1999 when Domingo heard her and asked her to come to Washington National Opera, where he was artistic director.
She was excited to land roles in three operas, but said Domingo began calling her constantly, often late at night, and was uncomfortably affectionate, constantly kissing her too close to her lips and touching her. But he was her childhood idol and the industry’s power broker, so when he invited her to his apartment one night to review a video of her singing, she accepted. He began kissing her, she said, and she pushed him away, telling him, “Maestro, I cannot do this. I am not that kind of person.” After that, she said she was never again hired to work at Washington National Opera and roles he had promised her never materialized.
Singers Patricia Wulf and Angela Turner Wilson, two accusers who related accounts in AP’s earlier stories, expressed mixed emotions about Domingo’s new statement.
“I sincerely appreciate his apology. I really do,” said Wulf, a mezzo-soprano. But she also called on AGMA to stand with his accusers and expel Domingo from its membership.
In a joint statement, Wulf and Wilson said, “An expulsion from the union would signal that the industry is learning from its mistakes and that sexual harassment and abuse — perpetrated by industry complicity — will not be tolerated in the future.”
Wulf has described repeated, unwanted propositions by Domingo when she sang with him at Washington National Opera in 1998. Wilson, a soprano, said that after weeks of pursuing her, Domingo forcefully grabbed her bare breast under her robe in a backstage room at Washington National Opera in 1999.
Wulf noted that coming a day after the conviction of Harvey Weinstein, Domingo’s apology and admission highlighted the gradations of harassment that can exist in the workplace — particularly in the entertainment industry.
She and others said they were terrified of being blacklisted or killing their careers if they reported him or rebuffed his advances.
Domingo, 79, addressed that fear in his statement Tuesday.
“I understand now that some women may have feared expressing themselves honestly because of a concern that their careers would be adversely affected if they did so. While that was never my intention, no one should ever be made to feel that way,” he said. “I am committed to affecting positive change in the opera industry so that no one else has to have that same experience. It is my fervent wish that the result will be a safer place to work for all in the opera industry, and I hope that my example in moving forward will encourage others to follow.”
In a brief statement, the union said the inquiry found Domingo “engaged in inappropriate activity, ranging from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outside of the workplace.” Asked for additional details, spokeswoman Alicia Cook said AGMA did not plan to release the report.
An internal email sent Tuesday to AGMA’s Board of Governors that was viewed by the AP said the union had quietly been negotiating a settlement deal of $500,000 with Domingo in exchange for a promise not to disclose details of the investigation, but that the deal fell apart after the findings were leaked to AP.
Domingo’s spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer disputed that account. “Our discussions with the union are ongoing. Nothing is off the table.”
Sexual harassment attorney Debra Katz, who represents Wilson and Wulf, called on AGMA to make the findings of its investigation public.
“It is an outrage that they are not issuing this report,” she said, adding “he is saying he’s learned. What has he learned? Has he learned that hitting on women and groping is not OK? This apology is too little and way too late.”