The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What should — and shouldn’t — the #MeToo movement mean for women in the opera world? | June 16, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

It is clear now that just about all aspects of life and culture in the United States are being affected more and more by the #MeToo movement that seeks to expose, punish, correct and prevent sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual abuse and gender inequality in general.

But what does that mean specifically for the notoriously patriarchal and misogynistic opera world – meaning for the operas themselves and their themes, plots, characters and composers as well as for the people who put them on?

How, for example, should one now think of “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? (The womanizing Don Juan is seen below in a production of “Don Giovanni” by the Metropolitan Opera.)

A recent discussion on National Public Radio (NPR) covered many dimensions of the problem, and The Ear found what was said fascinating although he didn’t agree with everything.

One Italian production went so far as to change the ending of a famous and popular opera – Bizet’s “Carmen” — in order to redeem the doomed heroine.

That seems excessive to The Ear, something that recalls the 17th-century writer Nahum Tate who rewrote the tragedy “King Lear” by Shakespeare to give it a happy ending. (You can hear the original ending of “Carmen” in the YouTube video at the bottom. The 2009 production by the Metropolitan Opera features Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca.)

It brings up the question: How far should one go in imposing contemporary values on the past? And does rejecting an artist also mean rejecting that artist’s work?

Read the edited transcript or listen to the entire 8-minute discussion for yourself. Besides the female host (Lulu Garcia-Navarro), three women – two singers (Aleks Romano and Leah Hawkins) and one administrator (Kim Witman) – ask questions and give their opinions and thoughts.

Here is a link to the story that was posted on the NPR blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

Then decide what you think you would like to see done to address the concerns of the #MeToo movement in the opera world, and what is allowed and not allowed to you.

And let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Here’s a must read article:

    Opera’s sexual assault secret

    I’m a gay, married, 32-year old former opera singer living in New York City. There’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time.

    All of Hollywood, and much of the country, is talking about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual assault. After years of ignoring rumors, and silencing women who came forward, the media and the movie industry are finally taking it seriously.

    It’s time for the opera world to also look at its own epidemic of sexual harassment and assault. As much as there is to say about what women go through, I’m starting from the gay perspective because it’s what I know.

    The first time it happened, I was at a patron dinner, seated next to the donor who was funding my presence there. He touched me knee inappropriately a few times, before leaning over during the salad course and whispering in my ear “[the General Director] said you were a cute one.” I pushed him away, high tailed it for the bar, and didn’t return until dessert.

    I innocently never expected it to happen again. But then there was the conductor who friended me on FB with a message promising a gig, but quickly pushed that aside in favor of descriptions of his prowess in bed that would appear in my inbox once a month for the next year or so. There was the up-and-coming composer whose work I premiered, and whose penis would subsequently appear in text messages sent at 2am, shrouded in a metal Chastity cage and accompanied by the words “hello, sir.”
    View at


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

  2. Yet another good read that focuses on the opera world:

    “This week, in the light of the revelations about assaults perpetuated by Harvey Weinstein and the denials and cover-ups that ensued from these, I read an article by Dan Kempson. In Opera’s sexual assault secret Kempson, who is a gay, married man, catalogued the instances and manner of physical assault and inappropriate communication executed by men in positions of power when he was a New York-based opera singer. These men exposed him to a litany of these incidents during his career. The response that he often gave was that he was married which, as he says, “is both true and wholly irrelevant to the inappropriate and horrible nature of these men’s behavior. And it was always summarily ignored.”

    He goes on to list the ways he observed and heard that other male performers were so abused, and then points out that such abusive behaviour is even more prevalent for females in the opera world. I googled Kempson and found that he is a well built, muscular man. I only mention his appearance because it underscores that men in positions of power will pick on anyone they perceive to be in a weaker position, even those physically stronger than them. In fact, unlike many instances of defining of a specific rape culture, Kempson’s story highlights that rape cultures are not just about slight young women being slipped something in their drinks and assaulted; the abuse he suffered was enacted upon a physically strong male, and in a very overt manner, often in public, by other men.”


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 10:40 pm

  3. Another conductor removed from his post for sexual misconduct: Canada’s Noel Edison.

    According to Wikipedia, “Allegations of sexual misconduct against Edison surfaced in February of 2018, prompting both the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Elora Singers to place him on leave pending investigation. Results of a third-party investigation ended in Edison being relieved of his leadership duties of both The Elora Festival and The Elora Singers in mid-April 2018.”


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 10:23 pm

  4. Good article at the Toronto Star on this, which includes:

    “It’s no surprise that the seemingly genteel world of classical music and opera is facing the same reckoning as the rest of the entertainment industry. The power dynamics we find in the wider world are often even more unbalanced on and off the stage. The big orchestra conductors are stars who command annual salaries that reach the mid-six figures. They get the best suites in hotels and have large private studios in many concert venues. Their say-so can make or break the career of a promising young orchestra musician or soloist.

    The regular musician is often precariously employed in a world where 200 or more candidates sign up to audition for a single job in an orchestra.

    Add in the fact that the overwhelming majority of orchestra and choral conductors are male, and the stage is set, so to speak, for an unhealthy mix of sexual and power politics. And it’s not just older conductors who carry around dubious attitudes. A bit less than five years ago, the principal conductor of Britain’s Royal Liverpool Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko, told a Norwegian interviewer that orchestras play better when “they have a man in front of them.” He added, “a cute girl on the podium means that musicians think about other things.” Petrenko was 37 at the time.

    Bad behaviour is hardly a new phenomenon. …”


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 10:20 pm

  5. Let’s see, Terry Baer has gone from “90% of the allegations being spurious” (which still leaves 10%), to “let’s move on” to because 2 people made “beautiful music together” “you can bet neither” has ever attempted anything disrespectful. Erratic, Trump-like in its stupidity.

    Sorry, there are more than a dozen women claiming Charles Dutoit did something not only something “disrespectful” but in all likelihood, something illegal. For this and because he is/was a known philanderer, he was fired from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

    His last days, like those of James Levine, like those of Jerry Sandusky, like those of Bill Cosby, are not going to be happy ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up behind bars or a suicide. Meanwhile, many feel the Met will not survive Levine’s well-known before the fact tendencies either. Ironically, he’s suing the Met for breach of contract, not realizing that no one is going to side with him, except maybe Terry Baer. Like I said, nobody.


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 9:55 pm

  6. There’s an excellent interview with “Mozart in the Jungle” classical musician/writer Blair Tindall at the following link.

    Tindall, who was a professional musician in the NYC area, says: :For Blair Tindall, the journalist behind the book and award-winning Amazon TV series “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music,” the news comes as no surprise. She knows from her first-hand experience as a professional oboist in New York City that sexual harassment is widespread in the industry and that orchestra institutions often see a conductor as a “genius” above moral wrong. She spoke to DW from her home in Los Angeles.”


    By the way, I recall that some people here criticized “Mozart in the Jungle” when it began for focusing so much on sexual activities of musicians. Some years ago, I wrote that she was correct.


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 6:27 am

  7. It’s not just about allegations surrounding women; it’s also been about men, and gays especially in the opera world. James Levine was dismissed at the Met because of this: I doubt that all of the allegations are spurious, although some probably are and are an effort to cash in.

    Lot’s of people care about it and what kind of a society are we if we don’t care? Sex has always been in part associated with power and this is true in the musical world as it is in the political and economic ones.


    Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 3:15 am



      Comment by Terry Baer — June 17, 2018 @ 4:42 am

      • Move on? That’s what Trump is trying to do and there are multiple people claiming, including in court cases, that he has forced himself on them. Tell the victims of these people “to move on” and see where it gets you. This is coming from the clown who wanted to jail Hillary, by the way.

        In the world of music, Charles Dutoit has something like a dozen women who have made complaints against him. He was fired from the Philadelphia Orchestra (which did not agree with your “move on” silliness). Other orchestras have severed ties with him.

        Wikipedia tells us that in January 2018, Canadian CBC Radio/CBC Radio Two adopted a policy of no longer crediting Dutoit as conductor when they played recordings of music he had conducted. WRTI-FM (90.1), a local Philadelphia classical radio station, went farther: theydecided to not play his recordings, at least for now

        Ditto for James Levine who was fired from his position as chief conductor at the Met. Opera, one of the top jobs in the musical world. At least 4 males have complained to the police that Levine molested them.

        Not only are Levine and Dutoit looking at possible jail time and civil penalties (sorry, there is no “moving on” in the law), their employers may find themselves in trouble. The Met, for instance, apparently knew about Levine’s problems dozens of years ago: and did nothing. Wiser groups have not “moved on” either: The Boston Symphony Orchestra said Levine “will never be employed or contracted by the BSO at any time in the future.”The Juilliard School, where Levine had studied, replaced him in a February 2018 performance where he was scheduled to lead the Juilliard Orchestra.

        This is the way you treat people who break the law: you don’t move on.


        Comment by fflambeau — June 17, 2018 @ 6:04 am



        Comment by Terry Baer — June 17, 2018 @ 7:19 am



    Comment by Terry Baer — June 16, 2018 @ 6:51 am

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