SZEGED, Hungary (AP) — Placido Domingo received a warm reception Wednesday at a concert in Hungary to inaugurate a new soccer stadium for a Catholic diocese, the second of the opera star’s European engagements since he was accused of sexual harassment in an Associated Press report.
Domingo, who shared the stage with his son, Placido Domingo Jr., and Puerto Rican soprano Ana Maria Martinez, faced allegations of sexual harassment from nine women in the report that was published Aug. 13.
The audience in the Saint Gerard Forum, as the stadium is called, applauded respectfully when Domingo appeared on stage during a ceremony before a concert. But the welcome seemed more measured than the standing ovation awarded to him Sunday by the opera crowd at the Salzburg Festival, his first performance since the publication of the allegations.
While two U.S. opera houses canceled appearances as a result of the allegations, Domingo’s European engagements have continued as scheduled. Still, his interaction with journalists was limited. A news conference planned for Monday in Szeged was called off, and access to a rehearsal was restricted.
Bishop Laszlo Rigo-Kiss referred to Domingo as “the master” when thanking him for his performance. The singer did not speak during the ceremony.
Concert organizer Andreas Magony drew a link between the allegations against Domingo and the large number of lawyers in the United States.
“What needs to be known is that the cultures of the United States and Europe are totally different,” Magony told the AP. “The United States is the home of the show. In reality, everything is about lawyers. There everything can be made into a show.”
He praised Domingo’s “fantastic stage achievements,” his love of family and his “unbroken popularity.”
“The honest and pure human communication with which he lives his life can only fill us with pride. And I believe the audience thinks the same,” Magony said. “We can have only honor and love toward Placido Domingo, who is a colossal artist and a colossal man.”
The AP story included extensive allegations that spanned decades, starting in the 1980s. The women accused Domingo of using his power at the LA Opera, where he has been the longtime general director, and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships. Several of the women said he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances. Allegations included repeated phone calls, invitations to hotel rooms and his apartment, and unwanted touching and kissing.
In a statement to the AP, Domingo called the allegations “deeply troubling and as presented inaccurate.” He said he believed his interactions with the women to be consensual. He has not spoken publicly about the report.
The #MeToo movement has had limited effect in Hungary, where leading politicians have drawn criticism for statements seen as demeaning to women. In a 2015 speech, Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover said that daughters should consider bearing grandchildren as “the height of self-fulfillment.”
In 2013, a lawmaker said that his wife broke her jaw and cheek bones after tripping over their blind dog. He later admitted punching her and slamming her head against a wooden railing.
Domingo has performed numerous times in Hungary, including a 1996 concert in Budapest with Jose Carreras and Diana Ross. He is also known for his support for “Virtuosos,” a Hungarian talent show for young classical musicians.
Audience members at the Hungarian performance seemed skeptical about the allegations.
“I can’t say for sure that there was no basis to it, but after so many years, I have my doubts. That’s all,” Istvan Garaczi said.
Anna Orosz said she recently read a book about Domingo and said the allegations did not influence her “listening or the enjoyment of his music.”
“Everyone liked him. Everyone was around him, and for sure he had many fans,” Orosz said before the concert. “He had no particular need for these types of things of which he is accused of.”
The loudest cheers for Domingo were probably heard after he sang the patriotic “Hazam, Hazam” (“My Homeland, My Homeland”), the best-known aria from Ferenc Erkel’s “Bank Ban,” considered to be Hungary’s national opera.
News stories about the concert in the Hungarian media, large parts of which now belong to a foundation with strong ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, often made no mention of the allegations. Independent outlets focused mostly on the stadium and sports complex built with public funds and church connections.
The Gerard of Sagredo Youth Forum and Sports Center was built at a cost to taxpayers of some 14 billion forints ($47 million) and is owned by the Roman Catholic diocese of Szeged-Csanad, led by Kiss-Rigo, an avowed supporter of Orban’s policies, including his fervent opposition to immigration.
The bishop is also the founder of Szeged-Csanad Grosics Akademia, a Hungarian soccer team that will play in the 8,000-seat stadium. The compound includes basketball courts, practice fields and other facilities. It will also be used by more than 9,000 students attending diocese schools and around 4,000 children in state care, according to the bishop.
Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.