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Harassment allegations against Plácido Domingo: Why the classical music industry has a problem


Several women accuse Plácido Domingo of harassment - but his audience still celebrates him, some fans even more frenetic. The musicologist Freia Hoffmann on genius cult and the power of the maestro / wrong role models.

Several singers and a dancer accuse the opera star Plácido Domingo to have sexually harassed her. Domingo himself said he always assumed that his relationships had been consensual. Some opera houses now said concerts with the tenor, others like the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie or the Salzburg Festival hold on to him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Hoffmann, despite harassment allegations, the audience Placido Domingo celebrated last weekend in Salzburg. Is art so clearly separable from the allegations?

Freia Hoffmann: I find it regrettable that the opera audience Domingo applaud even more to show him: We are on your side, not on the women. This is a very bad sign - by the way, only in Europe, the US audience behaves differently. The reactions in Austria, Germany and Hungary show the centuries-old pattern of guilt reversal, I would say: the allegedly abused woman is not heard or even punished, the man comes away or is even acclaimed after his act.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: European concert halls have held on to Domingo, while the San Francisco Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra have canceled concerts. Why are the reactions so different?

Hoffmann: Even if you do not believe it in the days of Donald Trump - in the US, political correctness has a long tradition. Since the seventies, also because of the women's movement, there is a greater sensitivity. Even the statement of suspicion is enough for radical measures. We in Europe act more on the presumption of innocence. That's not bad, just mistrust suspected victims. At the same time, the threshold of accusing someone of assault is very high.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: With Daniele Gatti, James Levine and now just Domingo, the maestros of the great operas are in the focus of #MeToo this year. Does the classic industry have a problem with structural abuse of power?

Hoffmann: Yes, just like every area of ​​our society. Whether there is more abuse of power, I can not say. Because the number of unreported cases is huge and unfortunately there are no reliable examinations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are artistic institutions, which are often highly hierarchical and at the same time cult for a male genius, particularly susceptible to abuse of power?

Hoffmann: That's certainly true. I do not know the gentlemen mentioned personally. But in the music business there is the figure of the self-loving man who wants to be admired and desired. And it suits this self-image to take advantage of this position - also because the audience repeatedly confirms its own genius and because it still seems to regard sexual assaults as a kind of trivial offense.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So are the fans to blame for the disturbed external and self-perception of a famous man?

Hoffmann: He is at least celebrated so that he may lose what his opposite wants. There is no female counterpart to the Maestro, most likely the figure of the Diva. But the maestro is up in the hierarchy, he can influence occupations, make recommendations, warnings, promote or drop. He has power.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Levine, who was responsible for sexual abuse and harassment, has sued his former employer, the MET. His reasoning: Inadequate behavior is not listed in his employment contract as a reason for termination.

Michael Dwyer / P

James Levine in 2006: in the hierarchy above

Hoffmann: I therefore recommend conservatoires and institutions to include a clause in employment contracts. Then it is easier to fight against attacks. Domingo also says that the social norms have changed in recent decades. That's where I have to correct him: since the 1970s, the women's movement has been against sexism. I wonder where he has been so far.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What can one do against abuse of power?

Hoffmann : That's the problem: you can do little against informal power structures. Who has relationships, is always at an advantage. But you can work on the systemic causes. The music itself can be a systemic cause.


Hoffmann: Music erotises, it creates excitement, makes hormones romp. To do this, she often transports role models that evoke misconceptions of gender identities in people who do not deal with them critically. Female figures in opera and vocal music are extremely problematic - but this is not enough talked about, even in training. And many directors still rely on exaggerated gender roles rather than complex ones.

SPIEGEL ONLINE : For example?

Hoffmann: I think of the constant revival of a portrait of women in the 18th and 19th centuries in operas and song lyrics: weak, passive, helpless, at best sneaky and violent. Or look at the genesis myth of the music: According to Ovid's legend, the devil-like shepherd god Pan follows the nymph Syrinx to rape her. She then calls for help from the gods who turn them into reeds. This cuts off Pan and develops from it the panpipe, with which the complaint of the pursued nymph is made audible again and again. In some versions of the legend, it concludes: So the music came under the people. Maybe we should ask ourselves why we cultivate a genesis based on an attempted rape.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book, you reported on attacks in music education and at universities. At that time it was not easy for you to find a specialist publisher for the book.

Hoffmann: It was interesting that I did not get any feedback on the book in professional circles. Nobody asked me about it, nobody wrote to it. But I got plenty of feedback from other victims, so I could have filled a second book. This mismatch would not exist today thanks to #MeToo.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Or should the audience rather show: We boycott art, which attaches an unexplained # MeToo suspicion?

Hoffmann: That would be a fantastic idea. However, I only remember a case in which this worked. The Vienna Philharmonic unleashed a huge protest in the US in the nineties because they had refused to accept female members. American women have criticized how incredible it is that this orchestra, although financed with state funds, is so fundamentally against the principle of equal rights. And because the critics have hailed the deal in the US enormously, they have admitted the first musician as a member. In other words, public pressure can do a lot.

Source: spiegel

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