Open secrets, big egos, & opera creeps Clockwise from top left: Plácido Domingo; David Daniels (photo: Simon Pauly); James Levine.

Open secrets, big egos, & opera creeps

Jenna Simeonov

What is this garbage?

Domingo, Lord, Daniels, Dutoit, Levine; these are the recent ones, and surely not the last. All of them, offering gross forms of payment for the sex they have - or attempted to have - with those who are at best colleagues, and in reality, subordinates. Promises of career boosts, extra-special professional advice, money, and plain old wouldn’t-it-be-hot-to-sleep-with-an-opera-star; these are the currencies of those in the opera business who have been recently outed in the momentum of #MeToo.

Last year, when the Levine stuff was in full play, I told a friend that I was surprised Domingo hadn’t yet been fingered (hah). I mean, if we’re talking about “open secrets” of the industry - the kind of secret that’s passed on dutifully to every young singer as they set their eyes on places like Tanglewood or Operalia or the MET - then Domingo is one of the big ones. Right now, I can recall a colleague and friend of mine, miming a blowjob as they talked about the latest recruits into one of the young artist programmes overseen by Domingo.

Levine was an open secret, too. Favouritism, rehearsal room flirting; I even heard tales of his being legally confined to the conductor’s podium whenever the kids’ chorus was rehearsing onstage at the MET. Like…

I’m just done with it. I don’t care if that sounds naïve. It’s exhausting and gross. Apparently, on the Venn diagram of people who are pro-opera and people who are creeps, there’s some serious overlap.

Like, is it the whole thing about opera and passions running high? Are they narcissists? Are they turned on by each others’ talent? Is it the fact that a lot of these people are nomadic and either single or away from their families for huge chunks of time? Why the opera/creep overlap?

This stuff is happening in every industry, I know this. But opera does feel particularly fertile for grossness; it’s generally slow to change with the times, and opera has a particularly rigid hierarchy, so clean-cut it’s almost quaint. It’s a competitive field, and some of the industry’s most coveted, important career opportunities are still controlled by the likes of Levine and Domingo. Singers who want to impress know the deal: be a dream to work with, and don’t be so ungrateful as to swat away an unwanted advance from the guy who can get you your next job.

Yeah, some of this shit happened three decades ago, when people - men, really - were mostly fine with creepiness. But that’s where I throw up my hands. What do we do with all this information? Do we boycott the schools and training programs that housed this behaviour? Do Domingo’s operatic realms - LA Opera, Washington National Opera, the Operalia competition - become stained and less valued? And do the artists who work there fall along with the institutions?

Or do we just file the facts away in our heads, and accept the slow-but-steady confirmation that, for all its taking of itself very seriously, opera is simply another seedy branch of show business?

I thought that after I wrote all of this I’d have some conclusion to draw. I don’t have one; I’m just angry. These offenders have egos that are out of control, inflated and deified by the industry and its love of legacy.

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I’m a silver-lining type. So far, the only hint of silver lining in this parade of violation and boundary-stomping is this: at the very least, as we out each one of these abusers, we excise them from the opera industry and speed up the much-needed turnover of power.

Until then, what? Take bets on who’s next? Ugh.


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