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Exclusive: Why Peter Gelb fired Uncle John Copley

February 1, 2018 by norman lebrecht

97 comments.


John Copley, 84, is one of the world’s best loved and most experienced opera directors, a fixture at Covent Garden for more than half a century. When he turned up at the Met last week to direct a revival of Rossini’s Semiramide, singers vied with one another to have selfies taken.

So when a mole at the Met told us yesterday that Peter Gelb had called in John Copley and fired him for some remarks overheard in the rehearsal room, we refused to believe the whispers until we had three firm sources.

Last night the Met issued a statement through the New York Times, its trusted mouthpiece, to the effect that ‘following a complaint from a chorister about inappropriate behavior in the rehearsal room that was received on Monday, Jan. 29, John Copley is no longer directing the revival of ‘Semiramide’ that will open on Feb. 19.’

The New York Times has no further information and nothing more to say on the matter.

We do.

Here’s what happened. In a rehearsal, male choristers they were told to show different reactions to the ‘ghost’ of Assur (sung by Ildar Abdrazakov*, who was not present). They were asked for a range of ideas. John Copley jokingly said ‘if it were me I’d like to see him naked.’

One chorus member reported this joke upward. Peter Gelb fired John Copley. He caught the next plane home.

The vast majority of the chorus, we are told, are horrified and upset at his dismissal. Other singers are posting sympathy messages and photographs of Uncle John.

Company members are saying that it is ridiculous that a single, unguarded remark by an elderly man should have got him railroaded out of town. No-one was being threatened, hardly anyone was offended. For most of John Copley’s long and distinguished life, a remark like this would have been considered a pleasantry.

At worst, he should have received a mild reprimand and told to get back to work.

Gelb’s panicky over-reaction is indicative of the poisoned atmosphere at the Met in the post-Levine climate. No-one admits that they saw or heard anything during 40-odd years of James Levine, so now the slightest misdemeanour by a harmless old man has been made into a hanging offence.

John Copley emerges from the incident without blemish.

Peter Gelb is left looking helpless and ridiculous.

You did not read this in the New York Times.

John Copley (r) with David Daniels

UPDATE: John Copley responds to Met dismissal

UPDATE2: The Met must apologise to John Copley

*Ombudsman correction: Samuel Ramey and Sir David McVicar have pointed out in comments below that the ghost referred to was not that of Assur, and the director therefore cannot have had  Ildar Abdrazakov in mind. Evidently, our immediate sources confused his role with that of the murdered Nino. We apologise for that misperception.


Comments (97)

  1. Jackyt says:

    What a crazy world we live in. Poor John Copley. This is a disgraceful thing to happen. Jokes now forbidden.

  2. Olassus says:

    Bill Mayer puts it best:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk6WwXNxPOw

    “The nothing-is-funny-people are trying to take over the world, and we can’t let them.”

    1. Helmut Camillo Fischer says:

      or Jordan B Peterson (although not referring to humour in this interview)
      https://youtu.be/wTbpl21OLjk

      1. Olassus says:

        Yes, thank you. It is an interesting discussion.

  3. Nick2 says:

    Amidst the serious business of putting an opera together, some of the joys of working with John Copley are his often camp demeanour and his many jokes, many made to lighten an otherwise potentially tense situation. None in my experience were anything other than that. I recall a dress rehearsal of Lucia when the diva was suddenly taken sick. “Get me a frock, darling,” he said to the Costume Supervisor.. Whereupon he proceeded to sing and act the role throughout, thus saving the rehearsal.

    That John would ever knowingly insult anyone in rehearsal is utterly laughable. That the Met has behaved as it did is utterly pathetic. I hope John sues and wins a large settlement.

    1. Jean Rawn says:

      Nick2, were we in the same rehearsal? Something remarkably like that happened in a Lucia rehearsal I was in during the 70s. Could it be that you and were in the same place? Hey, I already like you because you support Uncle John!!

  4. Sanity says:

    To quote PG Wodehouse…

    ‘?’

    ‘!’

  5. Dame Anne Evans says:

    In all my years in the opera world – which included several productions working with John Copley – I have never heard a more fatuous reason for firing someone. The world is indeed going mad.

    Dame Anne Evans

    1. Dame Sarah Connolly says:

      I quite agree Anne.
      The steps taken were utterly misguided.
      The person who reported the comment was not a native English speaker and now realises what he has done. I urge him to have the courage to announce he made a mistake.

  6. RUPERT CHRISTIANSEN says:

    Oh for f*ck’s sake, can we not grow up?

  7. Rosamund illing says:

    What a massive over reaction to what anywhere else would be just another “Uncle John “ aside ,delivered with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky chuckle .
    Good god has the world gone bonkers ,this man is a legend having taught legions of singers just “how to do it “ .For me it was Musetta and ,”two pulls and a doyingg”- my description of a bit of stage business . I will always be grateful to dear Sir John for teaching me all I know .
    Shame Shame Mr Gelb ,this was not well done at all ,not the way to treat an octogenarian superstar ,poor form !

  8. Martha Hart says:

    Go home, Met, you’re drunk.

    Seriously, the fact that John Copley is “beloved” and/or “elderly” is not the issue. So was James Levine, just to use another Met example.

    What this incident reveals is that the Met has no policy or protocol in place for dealing with harassment complaints. (Probably should have put “harassment” in quote marks, here) To instantly fire someone with no apparent method of investigation and resolution, is crazy.

    I’m not suggesting the complainer wasn’t offended – it happens. But there are better ways to deal with that that that work for all involved.

    1. Mike Ryan says:

      Hear, hear! By far the best comment here. Making ad hoc decisions in random directions isn’t a policy, it’s chaos.

    2. John Kelly says:

      Exactly. Assuming SD is reporting the thing accurately, it should be a case of HR Department is asked to investigate and they do. After that the GM decides what to do or not do about it.

      This strikes me as a knee jerk reaction made by someone who is sh*t scared of their own shadow. Time is up on Mr Gelb I am afraid……………………though I will, say this…. When he worked at Sony (so did I) he wasn’t exactly renowned for his sense of humor……

      1. Olassus says:

        Gelb is just no good. If he wanted to act fast, given today’s climate, he could have called the offended man and Copley into his office together to see if the offense could be dissolved.

    3. Dame Sarah Connolly says:

      The complainant didn’t even understand what was being said. He’s not a native English speaker

      1. Sir David McCarren says:

        How do you know his English skills? Being a non-native speaker doesn’t mean he does not understand English or speak it fluently?

  9. Tano says:

    This is simply nuts. The chorister in question needs to get a life or at least a different job.

  10. John Harding says:

    Had to check to see it wasn’t April 1st.
    It simply can’t be true.

  11. Tom Graham says:

    This is a massive over reaction to the harassment issue which is being treated with a broad brush approach in America.John Copley’s humour,professionalism, talent and legacy of over 40 years of productions is not in question. What is at issue is the judgement of Peter Gelb and whomever passed along this harmless comment up the line through management.
    Now the Met will have yet another revival without the input of the original director to make changes according to the qualities of the current cast.
    John Copley is not the issue here but Peter Gelb’s lack of insight and judgement is. !

    1. John Rawnsley says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more Tom! As I said elsewhere, methinks Peter Gelb should be examining his own position at the Met’ after this shambolic farce, or snafu as our American cousins might say, and begin looking through the job ads in his local newspaper!! On the other hand, not every Opera Company would want to employ “The Man Who Fired John Copley” ……!

  12. Mik Schachter says:

    America and this country are drowning in stupidity, fed by nonentities who can only whinge about “inappropriate” behaviour remarks etc. Nauseating.

  13. Siri Gottlieb says:

    I’m not a chorister, just a granny in the American midwest. But even I can see the pettiness, hypocrisy and just plain stupidity of this ham-handed move. Does that crybaby chorister think s/he won’t be identified? Buh-bye!

    1. Dame Sarah Connolly says:

      The chorister now understands what he has done, having not understood, ( missed the joke entirely, not speaking English well )
      Why he didn’t discuss it with a colleague first is beyond me

  14. Alex Davies says:

    Does anybody know what Ildar Abdrazakov thinks? I know that he wasn’t present, but since he is the one Mr Copley joked about wanting to see naked surely he has the greatest right either to take offence or, more likely, to laugh it off.

    What troubles me more is the use of the word “chorister”. Is this widespread and I just haven’t ever heard it? To my mind a chorister is a boy treble singing in a church choir, especially a cathedral, royal peculiar, Oxbridge college, etc., or, in recent decades, a girl fulfilling the same role. I would never have used the term to describe an adult singer or any singer in a secular context. I think I’d say “chorus member”, “member of the chorus”, or, since the meaning is clear from the context, just “singer”.

    1. herrera says:

      The harm to Ildar Abdrazakov is that he would have lost the respect of the chorus, being the object of the remark, even if it were a joke.

      The harm to others is that, if a star like Ildar Abdrazakov could be humiliated, who am I to protest if Copley made a remark about me?

      Geld did the right thing.

      See my comment below.

      1. Michael Miller says:

        Ildar has a pretty wicked sense of humor himself. I doubt very much he would be “humiliated” by such a PG-rates remark.

    2. Samuel Ramey says:

      If you are in the chorus you are a chorister.

    3. Samuel Ramey says:

      There’s a big mistake here. It’s not Assur’s ghost in this scene. It’s the ghost of Nino that has appeared. Nino was murdered by Assur and SEMIRAMIDE and his ghost has come back to haunt Assur. John Copley would not have been talking about Ildar.

      1. Company member says:

        Thank you, Sam. I was in rehearsal. There’s a lot of misinformation in this article. To add onto what you said, I’d actually like to point out that Ildar Abdrazakov was in the rehearsal. I didn’t hear the comment, but there is no doubt that it was directed toward a specific person. And, in no way is a sexual comment appropriate to the action in that scene.

        1. norman lebrecht says:

          Please see the Ombudsman correction in the text. In the heated atmosphere of the room, one or two details were incorrectly transmitted to us by three different sources. None affects the substance of the piece, which is the grotesque overreaction of the Met to an innocent stage indication by a veteran director. Thank you for your comment.

          1. Company Member says:

            It was NOT a “stage indication”. The comment had nothing to do with the scene being rehearsed. It was specifically targeted at the chorister. Yes, it may have been meant as a joke, but it didn’t come across that way to the chorister. I don’t think anyone is advocating that Copley be fired before having the opportunity to apologize, but that doesn’t mean he did nothing wrong.

    4. Gaydon Phillips says:

      Yes, the term chorister is used over here. My partner is a soprano chorister at the Met.
      Everyone is very upset and shaken this incident.
      Certainly over reaction on Mr Gelb’s part.

    5. Neil Eddinger says:

      I never imagined that the word “Chorister” was an American coinage. It was my job description for most of my life. In Amerian English, at least, it is the word that describes a singer who performs in the ensemble of an opera, concert or musical show. We are not members of a “choir”; that would refer to a church. I know the English say “lorry” instead of “truck” and “boot” instead of “trunk” (of a car) and “biscuit” for “cookie” but what do they call a chorister in the opera?

      1. Stephen Llewellyn says:

        We call them choristers.

  15. Enough says:

    The cast should quit the production immediately for this witch-hunting. The entire basis of modern theatrical performance is secured on the establishment of truth through subtext. If one can’t be honest during the creation of art, there will be no art. (Next there will be calls to not perform TOSCA because it glorifies Scarpia’s “sexual misconduct”.)

    I hope many others will be beside me on opening night booing this production to the rafters. If Meade & Co. doesn’t want to be subjected to this, they need to quit this production. The withering illiterate homophobic “chorister” needs to be dressed down by colleagues until s/he quits (or preferably leaves the country). Gelb needs to be fired immediately.

    1. Claire says:

      So, like, Scarpia’s “sexual misconduct” is part of the characterization of an unambiguous villain in a fictional work. I think that’s a bit different from inappropriate comments on the body of a real person who has feelings and a reputation to consider. Right?

      1. ENOUGH says:

        Sweetheart, most of the books burned by the Nazi’s were fictional too.

    2. Nick2 says:

      I agree with the Gelb comment (for this is only the latest in a Leporello-like list of errors) but not with that about booing the production. That is absolutely unfair to the rest of the cast and company, the conductor and the orchestra. Some demonstration is warranted, but please make sure it is aimed squarely at the management and Board of the Met – not at the Semiramide ensemble.

      1. ENOUGH says:

        Sorry, if your COMPANY opens its doors to thousands of people, and then pulls politically correct third-wave feminazi shit like this, it’s probably going to be boo’ed during the performance. Gelb simply could have terminated 84 yo. Copley and said he had the flu — he lies about his performers all the time. Instead, a respected man is destroyed in the press like a criminal and #MeToo snowflakes spew their crap all over him. Sorry dear musicians, your hard work will be for naught: you’re going to be boo’ed because you have sold your artistic souls to an incompetent. You and your ilk have the power here and its your COMPANY: get rid of Gelb.

  16. herrera says:

    Ah, the harmless-old-man-who-had-a-distinguished-career defense.

    Define “harm”:

    1) Harm is NOT the imminent physical threat of an 80 year old man ripping off the trousers of a young man.

    2) Harm is the abuse of a power position to make another acquiesce for fear of retaliation or the detriment of one’s career.

    And it is precisely in “old men with a distinguished career” who have no fear of being held accountable that such power resides.

    There is one standard that applies to all regardless of age, gender, career distinguished or not.

    Gelb did the right thing.

    1. Gonout Backson says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong : you’ve never, in all of your dear life, set foot in a theatre rehearsal, did you ?

    2. Samuel Ramey says:

      No, he didn’t do the right thing!

      1. Gonout Backson says:

        +1

    3. Dame Sarah Connolly says:

      Absolute nonsense my dear. One rule does not apply to all. That way people are guilty before proven innocent, or would you prefer a Maoist take on it? John made a gentle joke at the expense of the absent singer. You assume he lost respect in front of the chorus, but having known JC for years, his jokes are utterly harmless and not to be confused or put in the same category as beast men. Putting him in the same bracket is wilful maliciousness. The chorus should defend John’s name and good reputation.
      The whole thing is a riduvllues misunderstanding and I feel outraged that you should weigh in. Who are you again?

    4. I’d be with you if the “old man with the distinguished career” would have done or said something derogatory to someone. Yet he didn’t. He just joked und I’m pretty sure Mr Abdrazakov won’t feel “harmed” or injured. One would have to be a very touchy little flower to become offended by such a joke! And if Mr A. were a touchy little flower he wouldn’t have made it this far in the music world (by the way: I’m a former church musician and I can tell you, the “humour” of my former colleagues would probably make you break down in shock!).

    5. Sergey says:

      With all due respect, I believe that Mr Copley’s remark was not only harmless but even appropriate. It pertained not to the actor but to the character. The character is, as said, a ghost of a murdered person and as such it is expected to look different from a normal person. Nakedness, in 2018, is a legitimate way to separate one’s appearance from that of the others. Likewise a murder victim’s ghost may well have appalling appearance.

      Therefore I believe that the assumption that anything having to do with the actors’ attitude towards a character might humiliate the actor playing the said character or humiliate other members of the company can be actually humiliating only the cognitive abilities of the actors as it requires little reasoning to discern actor from the character.

  17. Rosalind Plowright OBE says:

    I am truly saddened by this appalling overreaction by the Metropolitan Opera. I will never forget working with the legendary John Copley on Mary Stuart together with Dame Janet Baker. Rehearsals were so much fun and John’s unique humour are and have always been the hallmark of this genius. I fail to see how a comment made in jest in front of the entire male chorus can be considered inappropriate behaviour. It’s not as though he was secretly suggesting a liaison with an individual chorister which, if refused, might lead them never to be allowed to perform there again. John, we all love and respect you.

  18. Marcus Clayton says:

    I think that there has to be more to the story than the Met is reporting, as usual.
    It is difficult for me to believe that Copley would have been fired simply for making an off-color remark to the chorus. This defies all logic, sanity, and reason.
    Perhaps Gelb is simply in panic mode after the Levine situation broke.
    I am very curious to see the upcoming new season announcement for the Met’s 2018-19 season, and whether they will list Levine as conducting anything.
    The Met Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall have been announced on Carnegie Hall’s website, and Levine is not listed to conduct any of them, although one concert date has no program listed and the conductor is listed as TBA.
    Interesting…….

    1. Dame Sarah Connolly says:

      The complainant has poor English and did not understand the joke. The union rep he spoke to (before consulting fellow choristers) should have made sure he understood the whole story before suggesting he go to head office. Head office should have done a thorough investigation too. It’s madness

      1. Carl Ratner says:

        The same union represents the stage directors as the chorus. If a complaint was lodged against one of their/our members, even by a fellow member, someone from the union should have represented him as well. As far as I know, a huge amount of money is deducted from his paycheck for this.

  19. Sharon says:

    In all fairness I suspect that Gelb may have over reacted because he was upset or spooked by the stroke and expectation of the imminent death of Rattray. He may have (probably correctly) believed that Rattray’s stroke was directly or indirectly related to the stress of the administrative, casting and publicity problems caused by the Levine scandal and other “me too” related scandals in the opera world. Gelb’s attitude may be “I gotta nip any hint of any other potentially sex related problem in the bud, because if these issues continue my own health may be the next to fail.” It is easy for someone on the outside to say “No big deal; this whole media circus will pass” but if you are in the vortex of the tornado, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel or keep things in perspective

    1. Gonout Backson says:

      So, some sort of a glorified “CYA” syndrome ?

      Seriously. When you’re the Big Boss of the MET, the first thing the theatre, the sponsors, the public, and everyone else is expecting from you – is to be able to “keep things in perspective in the vortex of the tornado”. It’s the job description, I would say.

      1. John Kelly says:

        Yes, it’s called “leadership” – or in this case, the lack thereof…………..

        1. Nick2 says:

          Bravo, John Kelly!

    2. Yep, you’re certainly right about Mr Gelb being under pressure in the moment. However he isn’t exactly an innocent when it comes to the Levine problem (that there could be a problem with Mr L. was known to the Met for years – and Mr Gelb didn’t exactly try to get the affair cleared up) and so I’m certainly not for giving him leeway when he overreacts – and in my opinion he’s been totally overreacted and actually would ow Mr Copley an apology.

      1. Sharon says:

        It’s easy to say that “leadership” requires perspective but under stress it is very hard to do even for the best of us. The Met employs 3200 people directly and tens of other businesses directly depend on the Met to stay in business. Hundreds depend on it directly or indirectly for a large portion of their revenue. It is a hugely important economic engine in New York City and the NYC tourist industry would shrink by maybe 15% without it. It is responsible for tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions in tax revenue because although the Met itself does not pay taxes its employees, subcontractors and businesses which feed off the Met do. It’s a huge responsibility.
        I remember reading the memoir of the general who was the head of the UN “peacekeeping” troops in Rwanda who had a nervous breakdown when he realized what was happening and how little he could do to stop it. This was a general with years of leadership experience. Yes, genocide is not the same as the potential failure of the Met but I just want to point out that even the best of leaders are human.
        I am a nurse and we say that nursing is stressful because of we have a lot of responsibility with very little authority. This is why some nurses and nursing institutions become obsessed to the point of ridiculousness with damage control and CYA.
        The same thing is happening at the Met. Gelb has a lot of responsibility but very little authority , that is, control, at least right now, over the whole public relations and declining revenue mess.
        Yes the right thing to do would be to apologize but to do so publicly would keep the issue in the news. I suspect that the Met has quietly reached some sort of settlement with Copley (and also maybe with Levine).

        1. laurie says:

          “Hundreds depend on it directly or indirectly for a large portion of their revenue. It is a hugely important economic engine in New York City and the NYC tourist industry would shrink by maybe 15% without it. It is responsible for tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions in tax revenue because although the Met itself does not pay taxes its employees, subcontractors and businesses which feed off the Met do.”

          These numbers are utter nonsense. Yes, we all know you are a nurse but you are certainly not an economist.

          1. Sharon says:

            Actually I do have a masters in economics and public finance (nursing is my second career). It is believed that when there is a major industry (like a defense plant) in a town another five jobs of people not employed in the plant are created through the revenue that the industry brings into the community largely through the salaries of those whom they do employ and the revenue that the business itself generates.
            Tourism is hugely important for the major NYC arts scene, i.e. Lincoln Center, Broadway, and major performances in Madison Square Garden, and the NYC economy in general. Those who have been to the Lincoln Center area know how many hotels and restaurants, and smaller artistic venues, like Merkin Hall, depend on Lincoln Center. and that’s just what’s in a five block radius!
            Furthermore, just as the necessary “anchor” which allows for the survival of any large viable shopping mall and its smaller shops, is the large department store, the anchor, that is, what makes Lincoln Center and the smaller venues within it viable, is the Met.
            I will admit that the numbers are my own guestimates based on nothing more than the employment figure and budget of the Met (I believe over $300 million) and what I see going on in the Lincoln Center area. If anything, however, I believe that I was giving lowball estimates.

          2. Sharon says:

            Correction: Another 5 jobs of people not employed in the plant are created for every person employed in the plant

  20. Stephen Llewellyn says:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake – get a life people! This was a rehearsal for an opera not a convocation of Mormon elders.That does not mean I am suggesting sexual impropriety or harassment are appropriate; they are not. But this hardly seems to fall into that category. also there is no suggestion that this was an instance of Copley using his power to intimidate others. This was (if it has been reported correctly) a small joke. Whether it was funny or not depends on your point of view but I fail to see how it could be construed as offensive. I do not know Copley but I know people who do and he seems to be held in nothing but the highest of esteem.This is a genuine tragedy, and one entirely of Gelb’s making.

    1. Enough says:

      I think this needs to be more clear: the reported comment wasn’t an off-hand joke at someone’s expense … it is being reported here as actual and legitimate stage directing in which a director was making a suggested “substitution” (read Uta Hagen, for example) in order to facilitate the staging of a scene. This is what directors who have studied acting since Stanislavsky have been doing for more than a century.

    2. Sarah Connolly says:

      Well said.

  21. Helmut Camillo Fischer says:

    An utter disgrace. A harmless “sexually charged” joke is now tantamount to sexual assault? Maybe “ear rape”?

    “Let’s get out our pitchforks and engage in happy witch hunt so we feel morally superior and good about ourselves”

    1984….

  22. Baritonedeaf says:

    I love dear Uncle John and told him so this morning when I read this news. His knowledge, humor, and honest love of opera is infectious. But his jokes can be taken the wrong way to those unfamiliar with his humor. I recall an incident some 20 years ago at another opera house when he made one of his ribald comments in a chorus rehearsal and a complaint was filed with management. Uncle John was spoken to. A sexual harassment policy was codified and distributed to staff and artists. John apologized. And then we all got back to the work we were paid to do. And John continued to enjoy a long career with this company producing some of the finest work ever seen on the stage. It seems, based on this report, the Met is overreacting here and owes John a public apology.

  23. John Doe says:

    DO YOU GUYS REALIZE THIS COMMENT WAS TOWARDS A CHARACTER IN A OPERA NOT AN ACTUAL PERSON RIGHT?… THIS WAS GIVEN AS A DIRECTORIAL IDEA ABOUT ONE CHARACTER TOWARDS ANOTHER! Please leave stupidity at the stage door!

  24. ken howard says:

    Actually, I suspect if Ildar had been in the room he would have laughed and said sure, let’s do it …. but since it wasn’t about him anyway why would he be offended or loose respect … you think the members of the Met chorus are that stupid? I don’t think so.

  25. ken howard says:

    oops … lose respect … a finger slip

  26. Sir David McVicar says:

    Dear Norman, whilst your very sympathetic post about this horrible incident is very much appreciated throughout the whole opera community, you’ve made an error that has muddied the waters and confused many of your commentators. The ghost in Semiramide is Nino and not Assur, therefore any comments John Copley made, or did not make, if your description of the incident at the particular rehearsal is to be believed, emphatically could not have referred to the artist Ildar Abdrazakov. I’ve noticed that my colleague, Sam Ramey has also flagged this up. I’m disturbed that this mistake has dragged Ildar’s name into this story and has confused and misled so many of your readers. I really appreciate your outrage, which all of us share, but we must try to be clear and precise.
    By the way, HERRERA, whoever you are, hiding behind your pseudonym, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and your comments, stupid and hurtful exemplify why misuse of social media is so dangerous.

    David McVicar

    1. Samuel Ramey says:

      Bravo Sir David! Well said.

    2. Aris Argiris says:

      AMEN to that!

    3. norman lebrecht says:

      Dear David

      Thank you for this clarification, which I will include in the story. I could only go on what my sources told me. There was great confusion and dismay among the chorus after this incident and it is quite possible, as you and Sam Ramey that one character in the opera was mistaken for another. What is absolutely certain, however, is the innocence of John Copley’s remark in the context that it was given – namely, as an indication to chorus members of the expression they should show at a particular scene. The consequence of this comment being understood is, as you say, horrific. all best, Norman

      1. Sir David McVicar says:

        Dear Norman, thank you so much for taking Sam’s and my own comments onboard. And thank you so very much for your spirited defence of John!

        1. norman lebrecht says:

          Dear David, the thanks should go the other way…. all best, Norman

        2. Company Member says:

          Two men who were NOT in the room. Lovely.

    4. Michael says:

      Whether “HERRERA” comes on too strong or not, there are plenty of rehearsal rooms where men of a certain take will comment about boys of a certain beauty and it’s laughed off. Is there malice behind it always…no. But try and do the same if you are a straight man of any age saying the same to a young woman. Should he have been fired? I don’t think so. But, people need to wise up about how they deal with others in a professional situation.

    5. Bruce Fowler says:

      Thank you, Sir David, for your most welcome input. I couldn’t agree more.

  27. Paul Carr says:

    That’s it? You’ve got to be joking me! That’s what gets one of the world’s nicest, and greatest living opera directors sacked in 2018? Peter Gelb, you ridiculous, pathetic, spineless imp of a man!

  28. Cosy says:

    This incident, as reported, is clearly not found for dismissal.

    However, I am not convinced therr is not more to it. It’s troubling to see the closing of ranks to defend ‘Uncle John’ as a harmless old duffer when everyone who has met him must surely know the truth – or at least have heard the whispers.

    John is notorious. He’s one of those people who everyone has a story about. And a seedy one at that. This feels to me a lot like what happened with Spacey in that everyone knew, but nobody really realised the scale of the problem until we all started telling about it. *Really* talking about it, not just trading stories in the bar.

    We may well be seeing the beginnings of another fall from grace. As the flashing encounters are recounted and the truth of the ‘private coaching sessions’ come to light, and all the rest of it that we all know we’ve seen and heard glimpses of…

    I have been inappropriately touched by John. I’ve had him make me feel uncomfortable with his comments on my appearance. I’ve endured his filthy anecdotes. And I just accepted it as ‘one of those things’. “This is the great John Copley. He’s a legend. I can’t make a fuss. Maybe I should be flattered”.

    Being older and wiser now I see it for what it was. A dirty old man who had been at the top of his game and saw himself as untouchable. And everyone let him. Because of his power. Because of his history. Because they didn’t want to be the one to rock the boat. Because everyone else kept quiet and played along too. Our silence enable him.

    1. If you really felt harassed you should now speak up now. Then one could talk about your case and perhaps about other people who felt harassed by Mr C. too. However, having heard the whispering and this or that rumour isn’t a foundation for a debate, but borders on malicious gossip.
      In the moment we’re talking about a joke – not more, not less. And if that’s the only thing the Met can accuse Mr C. off in the moment, one can’t help saying that the Met was overreacting by far.Even if there would be more behind it – in a civilized country a few rumours shouldn’t be enough to fire someone.

  29. Robert says:

    Had the great pleasure of working with John Copley in Australia several times. He has a wicked sense of humour but we all enjoyed his wit. I find this harmless joke given while directing a crowd scene typical of his method with the chorus. He would want everyone onstage to have a back story so their reactions were real and consistent. He would challenge chorus to explain why the principals were amusing or annoying – and was about how characters react to other characters. It’s called great sympathetic directing with a full concept of all the stage action. The Met is being ridiculous

  30. Sanity says:

    Of course, whilst you’re all railing against the injustice here, the real abusers in the industry, once again, go about their business, unhindered.

    John is an elaborate man: very camp, outrageous (also hugely gifted); but I’ve never once heard of him as an abuser – and I’ve been in this business my whole life. I’ve known John my whole life.

    What about the singers who are pressured into sleeping with the management and senior music staff of theatres to keep their place in an ensemble? Or the stars who ‘drop into younger singers’ dressing rooms to exercise their ‘droit de seigneur’.

    We may joke about the tenor who walked down the line at Bayreuth asking each female chorister if he could help them with their breathing; but we know the horrible truth that lies behind the ribald tale.

    John’s sacking may not make sense; but who’s talking about the Levine problem now? Or indeed the (even bigger) scandals waiting to be broken?

    Exactly!

  31. Alex Davies says:

    There is something that I wonder about the reporting and commentary on this story: how would we all be reacting if this were not a story about John Copley making an offhand remark about whoever it is who sings the role of Ghost of Nino (not named on the Met website)? What if it had been a younger gay man talking about another man, or if it had been a heterosexual man talking about a woman? What would people be saying if [imagine name of heterosexual man] referred to [imagine name of female opera singer, probably young and pretty and at the outset of her career], saying, “I’d like to see her naked”? Or simply imagine if it were somebody less beloved than John Copley.

    People often get away with saying the most awful things (and I am not saying that what he said falls into that category) by sheer force of personality. Just think of the Duke of Edinburgh joking to a 25-year-old woman about unzipping the front of her dress. I cannot imagine that any other public figure would get away with making that remark. If a cabinet minister or a bishop joked about unzipping a woman’s dress his resignation would be accepted by the end of the working day. And how on earth did Stephen Fry get away with his comments directed at child sexual abuse survivors? Nobody other than Stephen Fry could have emerged from that incident more or less unscathed. Just imagine if those comments had been made by the Home Secretary or the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster or by some unlovable celebrity such as Jim Davidson. They’d have been thrown to the wolves, and rightly so.

    I don’t know John Copley personally and I hold out hope that his remark was indeed innocent and was wrongly construed. However, I do wonder whether we need to ask ourselves whether we sometimes rush more or less unthinkingly to defend or condemn based not on the facts of the case but on our feelings towards the personalities involved.

    1. ENOUGH says:

      No, Alex, it is not about the accused at all. It’s about tenderhearted puritanical snowflakes and their inability to deal with the existence of quotidian sexuality, all while working in an art form in which every single work is about the very sexuality they want to publicly cherish through virtue-signaling.This will destroy the MET and opera in America. Let a hundred flowers bloom … and boo SEMIRAMIDE and all of the “professional” artists and their precious “careers” until Gelb is fired or resigns in shame.

  32. Mister New York says:

    What ever happens from this incident will be long forgotten. The bottom line The Met is in serious trouble in general. There are loads of unsold seats in the coming weeks. I had no trouble getting seats to the so-called superstar Anna Netrebko’s Tosca in the Spring. I am not sure if the company will be able to survive much longer in the future if the public and Civic leaders don’t rally soon and do something that’s going to insure the eccomic health of the Met. Jokes aside, these choristers are not going to be happy if they don’t have jobs much longer.

  33. Seth Lubin says:

    Why did not Mr. Gelb fire the late Luc Bondy? One wonders what went on during the rehearsal period where Mr. Bondy asked a female ‘extra’ to preform simulated fellatio on his Scarpia.
    This was less troubling to Mr. Gelb, than an off handed remark by Mr. Copley?

    Mr. Gelb should be asked to resign.

    1. David Smith says:

      That simulated act was part of the production and was performed on stage numerous times, not just some incident that happened in rehearsal. There are simulated sex acts in films all the time, so what’s your point?

  34. SethDLubin says:

    Why did not Mr. Gelb fire the late Luc Bondy? One wonders what went on during the rehearsal period where Mr. Bondy asked a female ‘extra’ to preform simulated fellatio on his Scarpia.
    This was less troubling to Mr. Gelb, than an off handed remark by Mr. Copley?

    Mr. Gelb should be asked to resign.

  35. Jean Rawn says:

    Like many others, I’ve known John Copley for more than forty years. In that time, he has always been talented, prepared, warm, very kind to everyone, and made jokes only on himself. His rehearsals are fun, even during long days with tired performers. He has rare charm. That this terrible thing happened to the venerable and beloved “Uncle John” reflects badly on the Met, not on Mr Copley. He has made a respected name for himself in the opera world. So far, the current Met management has not.

  36. Sean Magee says:

    One thing missing from this exchange of views is Mr Gelb’s voice. Should he not be requested to defend the seemingly indefensible?

  37. Former Met Employee says:

    Well, the Met’s long history of sexual and verbal abuse both backstage and in the administration has been the open secret with it’s employees. A certain bipolar past and current executive in the development department is a prime example of how public and private verbal abuse from her with complete meltdowns and tirades and personal attacks is legendary. How the artistic department was filled with sexually charged inuendo and outright pursuit was the norm. How, under Volpe, the executive labor negotiator on staff had a speed dial on her phone to her shrink and it didn’t apparenly work because she would turn on staff in a New York minute if she percieved a personal slight or dismissal comment from an employee (however imaginary). If you were to look in the hr files of those departments…… however that HR department was a dog with only bark and no fangs, they did nothing despite having overwhelming evidence

  38. Alan Hyde says:

    News from Gelbistan, that puritanical autocracy where there is no free speech or independent trade unionism, women cannot drive, and the chief cultural activity is squandering petrodollars on inferior imitations of European culture.

  39. David Smith says:

    Interesting how so many people are ready to way in with strong opinions without a clue as to what happened. The story outlined here is one take on what only people who were there really know. Here’s a different scenario laid out by The Guardian:
    “the Met claimed on Friday night that during rehearsals on Monday Mr Copley had “approached the chorus member and said ‘I’m thinking of you in my bed with your clothes off’
    Now, if that’s what happened, are you still ready to crucify Peter Gelb?

    1. roger says:

      David Smith, It’s not a different scenario. The Met’s claim has been reported all over. If you are going to criticise those posting here for not being accurate, do try to keep up.

  40. Veronica Torma says:

    This whole thing is going out of hand. It is like the Mc.Carthy area.
    Peter Gelb fires a genius over the insecurity of a chorus member?
    It is outrageous that any woman can launch a claim of sexual harassment without any proof and makes a person to be fired, spinelessly, for a harmless remark.

    This has to stop. Any loser can claim now sexual harassment if she has a beef and can ruin people’s lives.
    Veronica Torma
    Toronto

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