Is #MeToo creating opera fan apathy? Jenna Simeonov reflects on supporting the art form as its pillars come crashing down.
Let us briefly take stock of where we're at, to date:
Placido Domingo, opera's biggest living celebrity, can now count over 20 women who accuse him of sexual assault and inappropriate contact over his lengthy career. After decades of feigning ignorance, Metropolitan Opera finally acquiesced that yes, James Levine was indeed sexually abusing younger men, some under 18. Countertenor David Daniels is accused of drugging two men, assaulting one and raping the other. At least nine women have accused conductor Charles Dutoit of sexual assault and rape. Oh, and Vittorio Grigolo allegedly groped a chorus member onstage during a company curtain call.
These are the named instances amid countless others, less violent and padded in anonymity despite their being so widespread. A coach asks his student, mid-lesson, what colour of underwear she is wearing. A singer gropes his colleague's breasts onstage during multiple performances, ignoring the boundaries set in place during staging. A teacher tells her student that her singing might improve if she started having more sex.
It goes on, and on, and bloody on.
Ronan Farrow just released his book, Catch and Kill, about his investigation of Harvey Weinstein and other hubs of sexual assault accusations within the high-profile worlds of Hollywood and cable news. At best, these truths force us to compartmentalize like crazy; surely we won't do away with film and journalism because of these bad eggs? And at worst, they amount to a ubiquitous reminder that every time we watched Pulp Fiction or give NBC News our attention, we were being entertained by rapists.
And that's under the umbrella of an entertainment industry that is under no threat of extinction. Everybody loves film and television, and most are willing to pay for it. So what are we to make of the same rot happening within the arguably more endangered realm of opera?
The cocktail of unchecked power and sexual assault is a truth of this industry. It is found from the top down, and it has been happening the whole damn time. If only to not appear completely naive, I and many of my colleagues have recently trained ourselves to assume the worst: that new hotshot conductor? The high-profile artistic director? That famed bass celebrating 50 years onstage? Probably all a bunch of creeps.
There is little room for apathy in opera, let alone cynicism. But here we are, those who enthusiastically vouch for this niche art form, feeling compelled to ask ourselves, "Are we still loyal to opera?" Or maybe instead, "What is wrong with opera's people?"
I'm truly curious. Is there some major overlap between people who pursue opera and people who sexually abuse? Is there something special about the hierarchy of opera that tolerates such blurry lines between the professional and the personal? Is this a loathsome vestige of opera's white-knuckled hold on the past?
Whatever the reason for so much abuse within the opera world, apathy has become the distressing symptom of its exposure. Apathetically, we might end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of letting the actions of a few overshadow everything that we love about opera, if not the opera industry.
This is a moment of public service for those who would defend opera and its power to move audiences. We must haul ourselves away from apathy and insist on a light at the end of the tunnel. Like a good indie opera project, this is about deciding what's essential to opera, and what is not.
There's hope to be found, because the art form can withstand the extraction of abusers from the industry. After all, it's not Harvey Weinstein who makes Pulp Fiction a great film, and it's not Placido Domingo who makes opera important.