Opera fires singer for anti-gay comments

The Polish-American bass Valerian Ruminski has been fired by Opera Lyra in Ottawa, Canada, two weeks before he was due to appear as the Sacristan in Tosca.

valerian ruminski2

Ruminski had posted comments on his own Facebook page about a man he had seen on a bus sporting jewelled fingernails. His comments about ‘deficiencies’ and ‘parading his choices’ came during the city’s Capital Pride festivities and were circulated as a screenshot on Twitter.

The company immediately terminated Ruminski’s contract, saying: ‘Persons employed by Opera Lyra, including short-term cast members, are expected to contribute to good community relations. Respectful behaviour towards others is an essential part of this.’

Ruminski promptly apologised in a statement issued by his publicist:

‘My statement was hurtful and I have realized that what I have said was cruel and not in keeping with the way I generally feel about people and have interacted with people in the past. It was an unfortunate spur of the moment thoughtless comment that I need not have said and should not have said. I apologize and regret any harm this has caused to any and all parties affected by my comments.’

The incident follows uproar in Australia over an overtly anti-gay diatribe that appeared on the Facebook page of the Georgian soprano, amar Iveri, for which she was eventually sacked.

Opera singers must learn to curb their prejudices.


UPDATE: The singer speaks. ‘I’m a liberal… I like to bitch.

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  • Outside Russia anti-gay behaviour does not seem to pay off. At least Ruminski promptly apologised.This speaks for him not at least because Putin will not bestow on him the Russian “Burn all Gays” order in the light of his excuse.

    • the Russian “Burn all Gays” order

      Perhaps you should tell us more about the “Russian Burn All Gays” order, Martin??

      Or is “good community relations” a one-way street for you and other haters???

      • No, it must be a sick joke to be fired for expressing a dislike. Prejudice is a fact of life. Some people should get over it. Here what was said:
        “Clearly people have deficiencies and deficits and needs in this world and this is how we get to see them. People with issues do things to get noticed. Frankly, I don’t want to notice them, I don’t want to be an unwilling participant in their ego issues and I don’t want to have to be forced to think anything about them as people because I happen to glance over and see some absurd monstrosity like 10 diamonds nailed unto his fingertips. They FORCE you to think something about them. The FORCE you to pass some kind of judgement.”
        What the H is wrong with the above? He is talking about exhibitionism. And didn’t it come in the wake of the exhibitionist parade in Ottawa that one can’t exactly unsee or avoid seeing?

          • @Ethel, not at all, please stop projecting your own “tolerance” onto others… simply having an opinion and being able to express it without being labelled a N-S because my opinion differs from yours.

        • Ethel, it’s more what a person wears shows what state of mind he or she is in.
          I can’t do anything about people who have to wear the clothes of the opposite gender. Having to “celebrate” queens strutting down the street or exhibitionist sex and nudity is another thing. It is the gross exhibitionism that I object to and is, I believe, the original premise of the message. Be what you like but not in my face. Or if you strut your stuff, like displaying half bums, be prepared for criticism.

          • The fellow who was “criticized” was not displaying half or any part of his bum. He was fully dressed and minding his own business riding public transportation, and Ruminski took it upon himself to publish a photograph and to rant about a stranger’s manicure.

            But what am I doing trying to argue with an anonymous bigot?

    • If I were you I would reconsider my nom de plume. The current one reveals quite a lot, and not in a positive manner. Ever person is allowed to live and express him/herself as he/she is, and need not be told anything. If you have a problem with this, then the problem is you, not the other person, gsy or whatever. Please grow up and be an adult.

      • Sorry but this is anarchy: “Ever(y) person is allowed to live and express him/herself as he/she is, and need not be told anything.”
        There is silly exhibitionism like guys wearing diamond nails (heaven help my sons if any of them tried it!) and lewd exhibitionism that pollute the streets in the name of free expression. The first I would not pay any attention to but the second I object to very much. And the two of them are connected to and merge into one another in pushing the boundaries of good taste that probably doesn’t exist anymore in enlightened Western countries.

        • Sorry, darling, but everything you write falls back on you. A guy wears diamonds on his finger nails. So what? You need to develop lots and lots of creative imagination and openness toward “others”. Otherwise your life becomes miserable and you end up bei9ng a lonely misanthrope. That I do wish you not. Ever. Your choice.

          • Don’t phony “darling” me. A healthy mind cannot be open to unhealthy behavior, lest it become just that. This is the danger of imprinting indeceny on kids. They become what they see.

  • I think it is important to point out that he is not Russian, as this article states, but American of Polish heritage. His stage name is Valerian (not sure why) but on his passport it’s Martin – certainly not as glamorous as Valerian, or indeed, diamante nails…

  • Regardless of how stupid and lame his remarks were, I certainly hope he gets a lawyer, if he hasn’t already been compensated in Ottawa. I’m not sure how his contract was written, however I can’t see Ottawa winning in court. They should have spoken with him first and asked him to make a public apology. After all, wasn’t he hired to sing one of the biggest A-holes in opera? And what could be more satisfying than to see him killed on stage. But jokes aside, Ottawa should NOT be commended for firing him – we don’t live in some Orwellian universe. There are other ways to balance the needs of hare-brained artists and over-sensitive audiences.

    • Not only that, a cached copy of what he wrote is about exhibitionism, doesn’t mention the G or H word at all. There are plenty of comments in Ottawa newspapers online against the same gratutious exhibitionism there on August 24th. To be fired because of that is outrageous. To have to declare an Auto Da Fe otherwise he may not be hired anywhere else is sickening given the oft proclaimed tolerance that certain groups have been demanding for themselves.

  • The Sacristan in “Tosca” is certainly not a very nice person, but at least so far as the libretto goes he does not get killed during the action of the opera, either onstage or off.

      • Rather, the fate of the Sacristan is not specified in the libretto: we last see him scurrying away after telling Tosca “Il pittor Cavaradossi? / Chi sa dove sia? / Svanì, sgattaiolò / per sua stregoneria.” In some productions, e.g., Zeffirelli’s, he returns to organize the Te Deum procession, but he’s not seen again after the first act. There’s no immediately apparent reason for him to be executed, though I could imagine a particularly violent production of the opera in which Scarpia has the old fellow killed on the change he might have overheard some of the conspiring curing the search of the chapel.

        • I have seen a production where the Sacristan is killed by Scarpia at the beginning of the third act. The Sacristan is a Buffo role and is usually cast as such. His role is finished at the end of the first act, usually. However, some directors have other ideas. Their right, I guess.

  • Why are the comments “anti-gay”? There is not a single reference to gays in his comments. (On the other hand, there was a derogatory comment on “blacks” so yes, he should have apologized, as he did, but for being racist, not for being homophobic). Can’t someone be against men wearing nail jewelry and not be anti-gay? And being gay does not mean one has to like nail jewelry. I despise Judy Garland, Broadway, showtunes, is that anti-gay?

    (Finally, what makes you think the man referred to was even gay? “You can just tell”?)

    • Before judging sight unseen, I don’t see racist here but ‘blacks’ as descriptive:
      “he is ASKING for criticism by parading his choices in front of everyone. Like the black males who wear their pants down off their asses. They WANT you to notice it and get angered by it. That is part of the strategy…”
      All I can say, is Bravo, Valerian!

  • Another case of political correctness run amok. Whatever happened to freedom and the right to expression? Ottawa does not stand a chance legally.

      • So there is no “freedom” if there is “reprisal”. Freedom is for those who pollute the streets and who cares if children are watching but not for those who object to it.

  • “Opera singers must learn to curb their prejudices”
    That sweeping statement legitimizes thought control, muzzles freedom of speech and discriminates against opera singers at once…

  • Go look at the actual tweet he posted.

    He photographed a total stranger on a bus, posted it online and ridiculed the man’s (asian) face in addition to his fingernails.

    That is such a load of mean-spirited BS and rude behavior, I don’t think his apology is adequate.

  • The opera company did the right thing. What he did was no better than would have been photographing a religious Jew wearing a yarmulke, posting that Jew’s photo to Twitter without authorization and then mocking the Jew for his religious identity.

    • The opera company did the Right thing… you mean like in Right Sector?! Since when encrusting diamonds in your finger nails is an identity? Next mini skirts, baggy jeans and high heels will become an “identity”… Next, mocking The Donald’s comb over will get you in trouble…


    I suppose the best way to explain myself is the way that I made my big mistake. I will write it out. I have been writing caustic blurbs about politics and religion and many other topics on my Facebook page since Facebook came out back in 2008. I have a tendency to want to shock and stimulate conversation. For me it’s a way to express myself in a chaotic world where there are so many things wrong. Over-population, war, disease, climate change, gender inequality, cruelty to wildlife and so on and so on…
    I feel as powerless as anyone else when things happen in the world. We all have different ways of dealing with them. It seems like, for me, I like to write things and start debates. I get agitated at things and I want to vent and let people know I am bothered. I never know what it’s going to be.
    I lead the life of an opera singer. For those of you who don’t know what that means I will take a moment to describe it to you. We train for years, spend loads of money on teachers and coachings and then start to get jobs in various cities with various countries for a month at a time thruought the year. It’s not as glamorous as you might think. I generally get 3 or 4, maybe 5 if I am lucky, gigs a year and learn new roles. Mainly it’s a lonely existence. You make a few freinds along the way and have some places that are regular employers. Most of the time the sacrifices that you have made to get to this point are greater than the rewards you will reap. Sometimes you can make a great leap and have some success. I wasn’t sure I was going to have an opera career. I knew I could sing
    It wasn’t until I joined the opera chorus in my local town that I realized that a career was possible. The general director, Gary, liked my voice and he invited me to sing for him in his studio. So I took my best piece of music and I did. I really didn’t think one way or the other about the fact that he was gay. He was an intelligent, caring and compassionate man who wanted to see my talent blossom. He taught me all the basics I needed to start mounting the career I have now.
    Gary also maneuvered my schooling. towards an elite school where I was inducted into a sort of ‘opera boot camp’. I was accepted into a 4 year full scholarship program. My first assigned teacher, Bill, was a great tenor….respected in the opera world and also quite gay. I went to my lessons and became great frieinds with Bill. He remained my teacher for 8 solid years and taught me the basic rudiments and foundations of my technique.
    At the same time, at the academy, our music director, Chris molded and shaped me into an opera singer that could phrase a line, sing a language correctly and act well on stage. He was gay and had lived with the same man for over 25 years. I got to know Chris and John very well and I felt for Chris’ pain as John went thru cancer treatments and operations. They are still together.d are very special to me.
    All the other coaches, except one, at the academy were gay and they each taught me very unique things about my craft. I felt part of a very special family learning there and I missed it when I left.
    As I was leaving school and moving out into the world I was auditioning for many companies and I was accepted into a downstate summer program in NY. Jay was the director. Also very gay. He was an old Broadway dancer and had a way with comedy. He worked me to the bone all summer and I danced for the first (and last) time with frequency. He was a mentor, a director, a teacher and my employer. I left the summer program with a full stock of tricks to use thruought my career.
    The summer after that I went out west to New Mexico and was in a very elite summer program. I was one of 10 young men to be accepted. I would say at least 5 of the other guys were gay,. Some of them didnt admit it because they were unsure as to the ramifications of what that might mean for their careers. I got along with them all and I still correspond with them to this day.
    To play out the string on my recollections….my first two agents were both gay, My first major accompanist, Bill H, was gay. Almost half of the men who hired me into my first positions singing in Monte Carlo, Montreal, Dallas and Atlanta were gay. My current NYC agent is gay and married.
    So, as for my big mistake. I like to write. I like to bitch. I like to complain about the world, about people, countries, organizations. It makes me feel better. I sat on a bus last week and I saw a man with 10 diamonds glued to his fingernails. I thought it was a bit over the top. I did not know who he was, To me it did not matter if he was gay or straight. I simply objected to the flambouyance and unneccessary accoutrements on his fingers. I wanted to get a picture of them so I angled my cell and got one. I posted the picture on Facebook. I vented some frustrations about his nails and his appearance and I left it there.
    That was my big mistake. I did not know him. I did not know if he was smart or witty or dull. I didn’t take the time to say hello or greet him. I didn’t take the time to pause and think and consider that we are all special and that this person was different in a way that was unique to everyone else around us. I am an opera singer. He, as I learned, is a drag queen. The two of us are not too far apart, I guess. I am sorry I didn’t say hello before flash judging him. Certainly I regret the backlash and hulabaloo after my posting. I never bashed him for his sexuality. I never would have. I have been shaped by gay men. They have been father figures, brothers in arms and mentors to me. I lost my father at 10 yrs old to a heart attack. I found his lifeless body on the couch and I pounded on his arm to get up when he wouldn’t open his eyes. Ever since then I have sought out fathers in my life., To me, the gay men that have been in my life are not just gay men…they have been family. They have been cherished, loved and lost. Never in a physical way, but in my heart.
    I would ask the gay community to reconsider flash judgements. Facebook is not a place where the totality of a person can be glimpsed in moments. We are all text books of experience and depth and sometimes you have to look underneath the surface to see that. You yourselves have fought for so long to rise above the prejudice that has plagued you for centuries. You have wanted to be judged for who you really are not just that you love someone of the same gender. I am asking you to judge me for who I am telling you that I am. I am Valerian Ruminski, opera singer, hetero male,orphaned son, liberal, progressive, tolerant and accepting of all. But I made a big mistake last week. Please forgive me.

    • I also encourage everyone to find the link with the original comments and read them. There is nothing anti gay or homophobic in them. There are no words that are anti gay. They are simply stupid comments about someone’s fashion choice. For this I am sorry.

    • Thank you, Valerian, for your honesty and openness. I am sorry you have lost your gig. In this time of instant communication via Facebook, Twitter, etc., it becomes very easy to find oneself on the receiving end of lots of backlash – quite often equally unreflected and therefore hurting, and adding to the senseless acrimony and hollering which is the terrible cacophony characterizing our contemporary society. You and I, and everyone else – we are humans. We misjudge people in a millionth of a second, and then the words are out. Your testimonial is a valuable example to all of us, and the lesson you have learned – a very painful one it is indeed – is also a lesson which we all can learn and put to practice. Thank you for sharing with us how important it is. Whatever the future holds for you: this experience has made you a wiser artist. Use this wisdom to educate others when you witness them judging another person because the way he or she looks, walks, talks, sings, has his or her nails done, etc. I hope you will continue your career in the rough and tough environment that is opera. Again, thank you, and all the best.

  • You entered this discussion too late. Originally he had been said to be Russian. Now that has been corrected by the editor.

  • I have seen a production where the Sacristan is killed by Scarpia at the beginning of the third act. The Sacristan is a Buffo role and is usually cast as such. His role is finished at the end of the first act, usually. However, some directors have other ideas. Their right, I guess.

  • I have known Valerian Ruminski for several years, having sung Morales to his Zuniga in an El Paso Opera Carmen a few years back. He knows I am gay, I know he is straight, and in the time I have known him, I have never heard him express anything derogatory toward the gay community. I am sure this was an ill-advised rant. Valerian is very forthright about expressing his opinions, mostly on politics (ironically, he is very liberal, not some right-wing bigot), but he is a fine man. He apologized for his remarks, I am sure that he regrets them beyond having lost the job, and, as far as I am concerned, this is a closed issue.

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