WINCHESTER — From a beautifully renovated farmhouse in one of the most rural parts of Frederick County, a woman is making international headlines.
Last month, Patricia Wulf became the first of a growing number of women who publicly accused opera singer Placido Domingo of sexual harassment.
“I have absolute respect for him as an artist,” she said on Thursday. “I have absolutely no respect for him as a man. None.”
Wulf is a mezzo-soprano who forged a successful career in opera — first as a performer, then as a teacher. She worked with Domingo, who is considered one of the greatest opera singers of all time, on numerous occasions starting when he was named artistic director of the Washington National Opera in 1996.
At first, Wulf said, sharing the stage with Domingo was a dream come true.
It didn’t take long for that to change.
Wulf was born into a musical family. The fifth of seven children — five girls and two boys — her father encouraged the kids to sing anytime someone visited their home in Alliance, Ohio.
“My dad loved that we could all sing,” she said. “We were like the Von Trapp family.”
Her older sister, Mary, gave Wulf her first introduction to opera by singing an aria written by Christof von Gluck.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s the most glorious sound. I have to do that,’” Wulf said.
She accepted a job at a dental office in Washington, D.C., determined to earn enough money to study voice in college. After five years, she enrolled at Catholic University at the age of 26.
“I started late,” she said.
Wulf kept her job in the dental office, which was in the Watergate office complex. Some of the patients she served were prominent members of the D.C. opera community, including Washington National Opera General Director Martin Feinstein.
“I used to say to him, ‘Mr. Feinstein, you should hear me sing,’” Wulf said. “He never paid attention to me.”
Another patient was renowned Italian-American composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Gian Carlo Menotti. When Wulf learned that Menotti would be coming in the next morning for a dental procedure, she asked to assist.
In the midst of the prolonged procedure, Menotti asked to use the rest room. When he was gone, Wulf replaced the cassette tape in his Sony Walkman with another tape that featured her singing arias.
“He sat down, he put the Walkman on,” Wulf said. “He sat up, took the headphones off and said, ‘Young lady, who is this?’ I said, ‘It’s me, maestro.’ He said, ‘It is? You should not be here!’”
The next morning, Menotti arranged for Wulf’s first audition with the Washington National Opera. She didn’t get the part, but she impressed Feinstein enough that he invited her back a few weeks later to audition for the role of Papagena in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
She won the role and, in 1991, officially became a professional opera singer.
The costume Wulf wore for the production had her name sewn into it. Seven years later, the same costume was worn by another woman, Angela Turner Wilson.
Beyond the costume, Wulf and Wilson shared another bond. Both of them had allegedly been sexually harassed by Domingo.
At first, Wulf said, Domingo didn’t seem like much of a threat.
“He was extremely friendly,” she said. “He would kiss everybody on the cheeks and hold their hands. ... He’s very touchy-feely.”
In time, Wulf said, the Spanish singer’s kisses on the cheeks progressed to kisses on the corners of her mouth.
“I started thinking, ‘This doesn’t feel so good,’” she said. “I stayed away from him.”
But avoiding Domingo wasn’t always possible. During the Washington National Opera’s 1998 performance of “The Magic Flute,” Wulf played the role of Second Lady and, during Act One, had to exit stage left.
“I’m in the wings and he comes right up to me, and I mean right here,” Wulf said, holding her hand an inch from her face. “’Patricia, do you have to go home tonight?’”
Wulf rejected his advances and retreated to the dressing room, but Domingo was persistent. At subsequent performances, he would wait offstage to ask if she had to go home to her husband.
A fellow performer saw the incidents “at least three times,” Wulf said, and offered to stand by her if she wanted to report Domingo to the opera company’s general manager.
“I immediately said, ‘I can’t thank you enough, but they aren’t going to get rid of him; they’re going to get rid of me,’” Wulf said. “I had worked years to get there, and I didn’t expect this to happen.”
Wulf said she would come home after performances and her husband, Richard Lew, would ask, “Did it happen again?”
“It had gotten to the point where it was so upsetting to me, I would hide in the dressing room,” Wulf said. “I would open the door to my dressing room and peek out. If he was out there, I would not go out.”
Even when she thought the coast was clear, it usually wasn’t. Wulf said Domingo often paced the hallway, waiting for her.
“I’d come out and, boom, he was right there,” she said.
Wulf said she continued to reject his sexual advances until 2001, when Domingo finally stopped harassing her.
“It took that long,” she said. “But you could tell he was on to other conquests.”
Wulf performed professionally until she developed breast cancer in 2002. She eventually beat the disease, but at a horrible cost — the chemotherapy and radiation treatments caused liquid to form in one of her vocal cords.
“There is a sound that I can’t control, up on the F, F sharp and G,” she said.
Wulf said the liquid could be removed, but if something went wrong with the procedure, her vocal cord could become completely paralyzed.
She still sings beautifully, but the damaged vocal cord forced her off the stage and into a new career. Today, Wulf offers private voice lessons in Washington, D.C., and sells real estate for ERA OakCrest Realty in Winchester.
Eighteen years have passed since Domingo made his final unwelcome advance toward Wulf, so why is she just now coming forward?
Domingo is one of the most powerful and prestigious figures in opera, Wulf said, so it was in her own best interest to stay silent. But in mid-2018, she was contacted by Associated Press reporter Jocelyn Gecker about long-standing rumors of sexual harassment involving Domingo at opera houses in Washington, Los Angeles and beyond.
Following more than a year of conversations with Gecker, Wulf gave permission to have her name published with the hope that the Domingo’s alleged harassment of women would end. But when Gecker’s report came out on Aug. 13, Wulf was the only woman identified by name.
“I wasn’t quite prepared for the number of calls and texts and emails,” Wulf said. “Probably 65 reporters from all over the world have called.”
Many women also contacted Wulf and admitted they were too afraid to reject Domingo’s advances, so they had sex with him.
Wulf said anyone who refused Domingo did so at their own risk.
“A woman — I’ll just say her name is Lisa because she’s still trying to perform — he destroyed her career,” Wulf said. “If I had come out against Domingo back then, I never would have sung anywhere else, and I never would have had the support I have today.”
Not everyone supports Wulf. Domingo has legions of fans who stand by him and reject the claims of sexual harassment.
“I had six different calls from Spanish men, reporters, who said, ‘What’s wrong with touching a woman? We love women where we live, and we’ll touch them whenever we want,’” Wulf said.
On the exterior, Wulf said, Domingo is “a great gentleman, so charming,” so she understands why some people doubt the allegations. However, those people didn’t have the same experiences with him that she did.
“You can go ahead and believe whatever you want about him,” Wulf said, “but there are a lot of women coming out now.”
One of them is Wilson, who is among several women who, following Gecker’s initial report, agreed to share their names in articles regarding Domingo’s alleged misconduct.
The growing number of sexual harassment claims are being taken seriously within the international opera community. The Los Angeles Opera, where the 78-year-old Domingo is general director, announced it is investigating the claims against him, and the Dallas Opera canceled a March gala where he was scheduled to perform.
For his part, Domingo has denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.”
In a statement that accompanied Gecker’s Aug. 13 report, Domingo said, “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, 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.”
Wulf said she has no intention of pursuing legal action against Domingo, but wants to make sure other performers aren’t unfairly pressured by him or other powerful people in the opera community.
“I have students, young women, who want to sing opera professionally,” Wulf said. “It’s my responsibility to let them know this can happen in this business. It’s still happening.”