Artist labor union hosting anti-harassment training in wake of Placido Domingo allegations

The AGMA harassment forum will take place in Los Angeles.

September 23, 2019, 1:08 PM

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) is hosting a forum on harassment and intimidation in Los Angeles on Monday in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against opera star Placido Domingo.

Titled "Empowering, Supporting and Protecting Ourselves and Our Colleagues In the Face of Harassment and Intimidation," the forum will take place over several hours and feature two guest speakers: therapist and Actors Fund director of social services Tina Hookom, and stage director and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa.

"AGMA members at the Los Angeles Opera recently asked us to provide information and resources regarding anti-harassment and discrimination. In response, we prepared and are holding this forum to discuss types and forms of harassment; practical tools for those who witness it (bystander training); and counseling services available for targets of harassment," AGMA national executive director Len Egert told ABC News.

"We want our members to feel that they have better tools, more tools to deal with issues that are millennia old," Hope Singer, AGMA's western counsel, told ABC News on Monday. She added, "Ninety-nine percent of the time it's a power issue, and it doesn't matter if it's a co-worker or someone who has control over your career; it's a way of asserting power."

Singer said the invitation went out to AGMA's members in Los Angeles, which includes artists who perform with LA Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, a professional chorus.

"This is not something that's limited to a specific incident. This is an issue that is … not just national but international and occurs in almost every workplace," Singer said.

The forum comes a little over a month since the Associated Press published 11 women's allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior, as well as alleged retaliation by Domingo, a "major force" at LA Opera, per their own website, who has served as its general director since 2003.

"The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate," Domingo said in a statement to the AP in its initial report. "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."

"However," his statement continued, "I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards."

The AP published a new round of reports in early September that contained additional accusations against Domingo.

"The ongoing campaign by the AP to denigrate Placido Domingo is not only inaccurate but unethical. These new claims are riddled with inconsistencies and, as with the first story, in many ways, simply incorrect," Domingo spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer said in response to the September AP report. "Due to an ongoing investigation, we will not comment on specifics, but we strongly dispute the misleading picture that the AP is attempting to paint of Mr. Domingo."

Following the first AP report in August, LA Opera announced that it launched an independent investigation on Domingo. A few weeks later, AGMA, a labor union that represents artists, announced it was launching its own independent investigation on Domingo.

"Given the uncertainty surrounding the investigations of our signatory companies, AGMA's internal investigation will not be limited to conduct that occurred at a specific company or at a particular time," Egert said in a statement announcing the investigation on Sept. 6. "Our investigation will also examine the systemic failures within the industry that could have allowed this conduct, if substantiated, to continue unchallenged for decades."

PHOTO: Spanish tenor Placido Domingo gestures as he performs during his concert in Szeged, southern Hungary, on Aug. 28, 2019.
Spanish tenor Placido Domingo gestures as he performs during his concert in Szeged, southern Hungary, on Aug. 28, 2019.
Attila Seren/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

Following the allegations, Domingo was pulled from concerts at San Francisco Opera and with the Philadelphia Orchestra and from a gala concert at Dallas Opera.

He is still scheduled to sing three performances as the titular role in "Macbeth" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, starting Wednesday. He has an additional engagement with the Met this season to perform a smaller role in "Madama Butterfly" in November. Opening night for the Metropolitan Opera is Monday.

"We take accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power with extreme seriousness," the Met said in a statement on Aug. 13. "We will await the results of the investigation into Plácido Domingo's behavior as head of the Los Angeles Opera before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo's ultimate future at the Met. It should be noted that during his career at the Met as a guest artist, Mr. Domingo has never been in a position to influence casting decisions for anyone other than himself."

Few opera singers have spoken publicly about the allegations, and those who have made comments have mainly offered support to Domingo, who has been a helpful figure to many careers. However, NPR reported last Friday that several Met staff members were uncomfortable with his continued work there, although they spoke anonymously.

Parterre Box, a long-running opera blog, reported that an "Anti-Harassment Workshop" was scheduled in the rehearsal room where Domingo was set to be rehearsing on Sept. 5, during a rehearsal break. NPR's report also included an orchestra member claiming to have seen anti-sexual harassment training materials being brought into a rehearsal room after rehearsal had ended.

The Met told ABC News it had no additional comment beyond the original statement.

Domingo is also scheduled to perform in "Roberto Devereux" at LA Opera in early 2020.

"LA Opera takes these allegations extremely seriously," the company told ABC News in early September. "As we have said previously, we believe all our employees and artists should feel valued, supported and safe. We are, however, unable to discuss any specific claim while the independent investigation by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher is ongoing."