Charles Dutoit: A maestro’s wife reflects

Charles Dutoit: A maestro’s wife reflects


norman lebrecht

December 24, 2017

The conductor Charles Dutoit is consulting with lawyers and has vowed to clear his name after recent allegations of sexual assault.

Without prejudice to his course of action, and without making further accusations of sexual violence, Slipped Disc has received several reactions from female musicians, reporting the discomfort they experienced in Dutoit’s presence.

The following email, which we have been permitted to publish, comes from the photographer Barbara Luisi, who is married to the international conductor Fabio Luisi:

Dear Norman,

Concerning the latest news about Dutoit…. I was for a long time thinking about my own experience with him, I told the story  to Fabio already many years ago…

As a young violinist at Bamberg Symphony (I was 23 or 24… so 1988/89) I was sitting on stage before the concert rehearsal studying my part… Only a few musicians were there, when I suddenly felt a hand softly touch my back upwards to the neck on my bare skin and rest there…hearing Mr. Dutoit quietly talk to me at the same time. It was him. I froze completely. At this moment Mr Walter Forchert, our concertmaster and my friend and teacher entered the scene, saw this and said with a strange smile and a very decisive language: in this orchestra the women are not to be touched.

I immediately left and tried to wash the uncomfortable feeling off.

As an artist and a conductor’s wife I felt I just would keep it to myself. Now it seems only logical to me, that there must have been other cases much more interesting ones…

best wishes






  • Hans van der Zanden says:

    Dear Barbara,

    In this world, many women like it to be ‘touched’, as long it is not a sexual advance – others don’t appreciate ‘touching’, but it does not upset them. And then there are women who get very upset by any ‘touching’ – and carry it with them as some kind of burden for the rest of their live, as is apparently the case here [redacted: abuse]

    • John Borstlap says:

      Obviously, she wanted to support the claims of other women, which are all difficult to sustain legally. I find this a rather sneering comment, and unnecessarily so.

    • harold braun says:

      Spot on comment!!!!

    • Ungeheuer says:

      Why? Because it is blatant sexism and misogyny. Because unsolicited and inappropriate touching, in the workplace or in private, represents a breach of trust and of personal space. Because it crosses a line. Because it is a betrayal inflicted by the powerful against the less so. Because it is degrading and humiliating. That is why.

      • Hans van Der Zanden says:

        Dear UNGEHEUER,

        This happened 30 years ago in Bamberg – Germany……

        I can imagine the conductor heard her rehearsing and did not like it. To avoid embarrassment to her during the rehearsal, he went to her – crawling between all the chairs – to give some advise, may be lost balance and touched her not to fall and damage her violin, or saw her freeze and wanted to reassure her by touching (not uncommon in Germany), and he ‘quietly talked to her’ – no ‘blatant sexism and misogyny’ – and then my ‘friend and teacher’ enters the scene. Knowing her, he warns the conductor with a STRANGE SMILE and a VERY DESIVE LANGUAGE – ‘in this orchestra the women are not to be touched’ – and they laughed about the incident later.

        What motivates her to write this letter, I won’t speculate here, but this letter should never have been published at this site!

        • Jim says:

          What a strange comment. Please keep your imagination to yourself; it’s not relevant and it’s inducing waves of gag reflexes among readers.

        • Mark Darnell Marquez says:

          Hans !!! Keep your “Hans” to yourself! There is something a bit “off” with you, my man! Are you like…123 years old?! Thank the Gods – ethics and personal sovereignty are becoming THIS important, and essential to Human Dignity.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          “…I can imagine the conductor heard her rehearsing and did not like it. To avoid embarrassment to her during the rehearsal, he went to her …”

          Except that Dutoit seems to have no history of trying to avoid embarrassing musicians.

          In most noisy work situations a tap on the shoulder would be an appropriate way to get someone’s attention, not a hand up and down the back.

          • Margot says:

            If you wish to raise something with a work colleague, you dont come from behind and slide your hand down their back; you approach from the front or side and speak to them, without touching. This anecdote is part of a pattern of inappropriate actions by Dutoit that can be explained away by those who dont take them seriously, but which have left the person on the receiving end feeling very disturbed by it.

    • Emil says:

      Dear Hans,
      Do Please continue to enlighten the world about what women want.

  • harold braun says:

    Maybe it´s just about getting some attention….

    • Benjamin Browne says:

      Dear Harold,

      I think it is quite obvious that this is not attention getting. We all know how this business works. Go to a lawyer, file a complaint, all of a sudden your opportunities dry up and you don’t have any work. Failing to recognize that it has been this way for a very long time is failing to recognize the reality of the music world. Shut up, don’t say a word, and you get to keep working. That’s the way it has been. I applaud these women. What they are saying and the way they are saying it make it perfectly clear that this has nothing to do with fabricating events or any attempt at getting attention drawn to themselves. Finally they are feeling safe to open up. And the fact that the vast majority that have worked with these predators aren’t surprised by the claims further supports it. The women in our business deserve our full support and equal treatment. Every “artist” deserves equal treatment beyond their sex, sexual preference, skin color, height, or any other part of their being that defines them without having predators in positions of power affecting their opportunities or personal well-being.


      • harold braun says:

        With due respect,maybe you should wear a tinfoil hat.Can´t listen to this conspiracy theories about evil all male circles trying to prevent or destroy women´s careers and our law enforcement being ineffective and biased any more.There are certainly countries,in the far east or Africa where this applies but not in Western democracies.Not anymore,thanks God!As a former staff council representative in 2 opera houses i had to deal with maybe half a dozen cases of sexual harassment.I assure you the handling of these cases has always been fair,balanced,effective and without prejudice!!!

        • Benjamin Browne says:

          Tin foil hat? Just because in your places of work nothing had happened to the best of your knowkedge, it doesn’t discredit it happening elsewhere. Your’s is a very week argument. It is beyond obvious these women are telling the truth.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            Healthy skepticism that is a combination of experience and intelligence is rather favorable to gullibility, isn’t it?

          • harold braun says:

            Why?Why for heavens sake is it beyond obvious they are telling the truth?Do you know them personally?Do you have CCTV footage?We have to find out whether it is the truth or not.This attitude brought dozens of innocent people on death row!

          • Clare Abend says:

            …why? – simply because if Barbara Luisi’s letter would have been in defense of Charles Dutoit instead, it would not have been worth publishing it on this blog!

        • Charles Fischbein says:

          Mr. Litigator. Death row.
          His many murder cases did you try from the confines of your civil practice.
          Sounds like you are the poster boy for the ACLU.
          I assume your Volvo has a bumper sticker saying.
          Protect your local criminal

      • Mr. Schwa says:

        Why is this entire discussion about women being the victims? Straight males deal with the gay pressures of the music business (certainly in opera) on a fail basis. Opera is for the most part a gay business climate. Touching goes in all the time: at auditions, rehearsals, backstage, socially, etc. The implications of getting or not getting hired when the powers-that-be deal with you as a straight guy are not very subtle. All this talk about Levine? Th Met has had a number of cases regarding music staff treatment and hiring over the years, some resulting in firings. That opera house has been a house of horrors in this respect ever since Levine came to power. I never cried about anything I endured or experienced. You get on with your life. If you want to take action, then take action. Being afraid of blacklisting is not unique to females. And, since we are at it here, we should also realize that a number of high-profile music and opera festivals are now run by women. Several high-profile ones among them are gay, and we in the business are privy to/aware of pressure being applied and headtrip games in hiring and working. Want some names? Not from me……

        • MWnyc says:

          Why is this entire discussion about women being the victims?

          Because the vast majority of men can physically overpower the vast majority of women. I think men often for get this; women generally don’t.

          Mr. Schwa might not have liked being touched by gay men in opera houses, but he most likely could have fought off any man who got too insistent or violent. Most women are not that fortunate.

    • MacroV says:

      Seriously, what woman has ever benefited from coming forward about something like this? Whether or not the complaint has merit.

      • Scotty says:

        Monica Lewinsky did not come forward or complain. In fact she filed a deposition denying contact with Clinton. Her relationship surfaced as a result of girl talk with Linda Tripp, who secretly taped the conversations and outed her to authorities.

      • Mark Henriksen says:

        “University of California regents have agreed to a $1.7 million settlement that will be paid out over the next decade to an employee who accused UC Berkeley’s former law school dean of sexual harassment.”

        There is another lawsuit just filed by a woman who claims her PhD advisor looked her body “up and down” and hugged her “awkwardly”.

      • MacroV says:

        Monica Lewinsky never came forward, and she has basically been unemployable as a result of this whole affair (small a). So yes, she’s made some money from a book and perhaps from speaking/punditry, but I’m sure she’d rather none if it had ever come out.

        • Leda Lebedkina says:

          Surely Monica would do it all over again and maybe would now take photos/videos. She did not have to betray a man she supposedly loved so much. She is certainly not a Fidelio Leonora, hahaha!

  • Simon F says:

    What the commenters above don’t seem to understand, something my (younger) generation understands implicitly, is that it’s not appropriate to go around touching women in ANY away unless it’s clear that physicality is desired or needed. The sooner older man understand this the better. I think it’s fair to say, certainly amongst my generation, that most women would rather not be touched by men at all in a work context. It’s entirely unnecessary and inappropriate in the work-place unless it has been invited. There’s a really simple rule. If in doubt, don’t do it.

  • Morello says:

    I do wonder what she hopes to achieve, nearly 30 years on…..this incident bears no relation to the recent much more serious allegations. A bit like conflating the touching of a knee or a suggestive text with actual assault or rape – there’s no comparison, and like an earlier comment, smells a bit like revenge……served cold.

    • MWnyc says:

      What Barbara Luisi hopes to achieve is to lend some credibility to the women alleging that Dutoit assaulted them – she’s saying that the allegations probably aren’t bogus because she personally had a similar experience with Dutoit. (And if her teacher hadn’t come along, who knows how much worse it might have been?)

      • Una says:

        As a woman in the music profession, I hate to say this is not my idea of assault and particularly thirty years ago. Put your hand on someone’s shoulder today and it’s now assault!!! Glad I might not be around in the next 30 or 40 years.

  • Raymond says:

    Telling that Hans questions her reaction and her sharing this experience. The question more properly is WTF did he think he was doing? Consider the time, place, age, hierarchy. Ask the question again.

    Now play social analyst along with Hans. He generalized about degrees of familiarity. But we have a specific set of facts. How many women (or men) like being surprised from behind by an unknown and unfamiliar and uninvited hand?

  • Has-been says:

    It is not unheard of for conductor’s wives to be jealous and resentful of other conductors.

    • Hans van der Zanden says:

      One of the fellows in the Halle fell in love with a young woman – a singer – and they had quite the time together for a while. Then his wife heard of it, and there was a hell of a row. She went to see Barbirolli, hoping he could intervene, you see. She went to his room in the Free Trade Hall at the interval, and he was having his usual whisky. ‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ he said. ‘It’s my husband, he’s got this young woman, and I don’t know what to do.’ And there she was sobbing away. ‘You know,’ he said, trying to comfort her in his kindly way, ‘there’s nothing to worry about, he’s playing better than ever.’

    • MacroV says:

      I think Fabio is well-enough established that there’s no need for jealousy towards Dutoit either by him or his wife.

      • Leda Lebedkina says:

        Ironically, the Levine or Dutoit causes prove that noone is established well-enough. Maybe Luisi is next to join the fired squad.

  • Alain Pinneau says:

    In other news, it has been announced that Maestro Dutoit will temporarily remove the “o” from his last name until ongoing allegations have been investigated.

  • Been Here Before says:

    I believe the accusers. I believe that Levine, Dutoit, and anybody who engaged in sexual harassment ought to be investigated. Once the facts are examined, the appropriate action should be taken.

    Unfortunately, the letter by Signora Luisi devalues claims of the real victims. As a moderately attractive male, I often get touched at the opera and concerts by women (especially the older ones). In the past, I have been touched and patted on the lower back and posterior. Did I feel uncomfortable? Yes. Did I ever consider it harassment? Absolutely not.

    There has to be a line between common sense and farce. In case the latter prevails, the real victims will be the biggest losers.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Dude, you don’t get it. When that touching is done by the guy who has the power over your job, who is in effect your boss, and then moreso because within that world he is a major figure with very real powers, it’s completely different. It’s about the power imbalance, not the simple act of touching.

      • Been Here Before says:

        I have been touched by my boss’ boss (a female) and a professor (a female) when I was a student. I was propositioned by a male professor, told him I was not gay and we both laughed it off.

        • MWnyc says:

          Been Here, I think the difference is that, as a male, you were physically larger and stronger than those women; if their touching got aggressive, you could fight them off. This was so obvious that you didn’t need to think about it for even a second.

          And even with the gay man, the chances are that you could have defended yourself if he tried to force himself on you.

          This is, of course, not true for women. Any woman who was grabbed and forcibly kissed by Dutoit had to wonder not only about the ramifications for her career if she complained afterward, but about the fact that, in the moment, he could overpower her if he wished.

          I think men sometimes forget this.

      • harold braun says:

        I´ve been hugged and touched(in one case,to comfort me when i went through a rough patch) be one of my female bosses several times.No problem here.In return i did the same to her many times and to many female colleagues.No big deal.No one complained.It´s all about the intention behind the behaviour

        • Peter says:

          There is no reason to touch anybody at work except shaking hands. If you stick to this rule you’ll never have problems. Everybody else is walking on a thin line.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The best comment so far on this entire subject.

          • harold braun says:

            LOL!!!!!Living in Oliver Cromwells times????

          • growup says:

            Have you ever heard of work place romance? It’s the other side of the same coin.

          • herrera says:

            Bowing. No touching needed.

            Asians are so much more civilized.

          • Una says:

            Depends on your nationality. We British don’t do much handshaking in the work place or anywhere else. We leave it to the German and the American males! Wevtendvto.hug or just stand there. And when forced to by other nationalities and other cultures, it can feel quite insincere and alien. And I have to put up with being kissed three times on the cheek by Belgians, twice by tge French others in Europe and once by upper middle class Brits- so be it. Not my culture but would I ever say it was assault if I didnt know?

          • Erwin says:

            “There is no reason to touch anybody at work except shaking hands.”
            Perhaps that’s true for a business- or office job, but it’s certainly not true when you try to teach someone how to play or sing professionally. There is almost always a purely physical side of playing an instrument and sometimes it can’t be avoided to touch someone just to point out matters of relaxation or technique.

            There’s no way to justify sexual harassment and the way Dutoit behaved, or rather misbehaved (apparently) in many cases. But what we should also avoid is an atmosphere of suspician and fear while teaching when it comes to touching somebody who is younger and/or of the opposite sex, just to make something elementary clear.

        • Charles Fischbein says:

          Sounds a bit creepy to me.
          If you cry too often seek professional help.
          Perhaps prozac can change your life

  • Douglas Nasrawi says:

    Hans van der Jansen,

    With all due respect for your talent, your opinions are disgusting. You should not have squandered this opportunity to shut up.

    Yours truly,

    Douglas Nasrawi

  • whatifyourhusbanddidittoo says:

    What if your husband once touched a woman’s arm, shoulder or neck during a rehearsal? What if this happened once 30 years ago before you met? Are you prepared for his entire career to be flushed?

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    What must poor Martha be thinking right now? No one seems yet to have given any consideration to that.

    • Clare Abend says:

      Martha must have practiced her own share of “touché” during that time…!

    • Leda Lebedkina says:

      Obviously Martha enjoyed his courtship, and surely LOTS of women did. He is talented, handsome and famous, women seek such men. Maybe his accusers wanted him to commit/marry them. There could be many other utterly lowly motives ending in hubris.

  • Anon says:

    If a woman feels she’s inappropriately touched by fellow colleagues, whom she doesn’t know, (soloists/conductors whatever) a quick “do you mind?”certainly does the trick. I know. It works! Don’t complain after the event. Deal with it then. It’s easy enough. Happy Christmas all!

    • harold braun says:

      Spot on!Happy holidays!

    • Sue says:

      I once told a boss in TV after he pinched my bottom “hands off the merchandise”. That killed it. Stone dead. We were great colleagues thereafter. People like frankness and honesty. A rare commodity these days. Happy Xmas.

      • harold braun says:


      • Leda Lebedkina says:

        I agree. In my experience men respect such women even more thereafter. Saying NO right away never seem to hurt a man. But yes, if she plays with man, goes half-way and then rejects him, and then 20.years later claims that “she felt like hell”, well…just deal with it. He probably did not enjoy the experience too.

  • bringshariatotheorchestra says:

    How many conductors have married players from the orchestras they have led? How many orchestra musicians have married one another? How many relationships have existed between conductors and musicians or musicians within orchestras? Hundreds and hundreds since the beginning of the industry. Today there are many examples. Without flirting there would be no relationships. Are we entering an age where orchestras will dictate dating policies? Will women be separated from men? This is the direction the west is headed while being led by the a liberal fascist elite. It’s a new age. Merry Christmas.

    • Bruce says:

      You do a nice job of ignoring the power differential and pretending that all relationships are the same. Merry Christmas.

  • Michael Dart says:

    The letter tells more about Luisi and his wife than Dutoit. Probably that’s why Norman published it.
    Considering that touching people has been a cultural aspect, depending where you live (even shaking hands is not appropriate in Japan), there’s no reason to mix this 30 years old memory with the serious subject in question. Women, and people in general, as this situation is not limited to any specific gender, knows that sooner they learn how to show the limits to others better they feel. [redacted: speculation]

    • MacroV says:

      Clearly Barbara Luisi found something distasteful, sexual and/or intimidating about it. It appeared to be more than just a casual touch of the shoulder.

      • harold braun says:

        Have you been there?

        • MacroV says:

          I would direct you to her own statement. Sigh.

          • Leda Lebedkina says:

            Looks like she is trying to remove a rival by resorting to this slandering abuse. I hope someone will tell us a story how Fabio abused somebody. Is Barbara prepared for that? She better be. How ignoble.

        • Charles Fischbein says:

          Have you been there either.
          In fact when was the last time you argued a court case Sir Litigator??
          How can you sit and judge something you are totally ignorant about.
          Typical liberal insanity and classic example if situational ethic’s.
          Do you argue parking tickets too?

  • Elio says:

    The most significant information in the entire letter is not the touching incident (innocent or not), but the concertmaster’s resolute reaction. Maybe he had reasons to be suspicious about mr. Dutoit intentions. Or maybe he had just witnessed some innapropriate behaviour by other conductors or musicians before and acted preventively. In any case, it just shows how present harrasment is in this business.

    • norman lebrecht says:


    • Andy says:

      Correct. It’s good he knew the exact sequence of words to use. I once saw a somewhat similar incident in a workplace decades ago. The woman under the hand looked at the owner of the hand and, without a trace of a smile said, “Hands off”. That sequence of words worked too.

    • Michael Dart says:

      Agree! Still, apparently it was not Babara’s main intention writing this letter. Agree also with Norman. We can only speculate here…

  • Simon Scott says:

    Bloody conductors.
    The age of the great conductors,AT,B Walter,Ormandy,Klemperer,Boult etc etc is now well and truly over.
    Maybe Zubin Mehta is the last of the mohicans in this regard.The rest?
    Just a bunch of money hungry ego tripping charlatans.

  • Michael Dart says:

    Great conductors but also (some of them) great dictators! Harassment can be other than sexual, but who cares now?

  • Nick2 says:

    I note above that Ungeheuer claims a second poster using his name has appeared. This also happened with me. Consequently I have altered my name. But I do respectfully suggest to NL that something should be added to the software to ensure that the registered name and email address are somehow linked. That will prevent other parties using existing names. I do believe this is important, particularly in the case of regular posters. Otherwise it becomes easy for trolls to take over.

    • Clare Abend says:

      NICK2, if the writers in this blog had the courage to use their real names, instead of NICKnames, this would not be an issue.

      • Nick2 says:

        If that were a regulation, how many posters would this blog end up with? Well under half, I assume. And what makes you think that Nick is not my real name? I expect a lot of those who post have a good reason not to have their full names published. The quality of their posts over a period of time is sufficient to stand for their veracity.

        • Clare Abend says:

          NICK2, you are doing a good job justifying your fake name, but not answering your own questions. How are we to know if your adopted mask is real or not if you complain about letting someone else use it?
          Does the quality of posts here, or anywhere else, justify this “ballo in maschera”…? You should have the courage to use your own full name if you expect any respect for what you write.

          • Nick says:

            That is a reasonable point – up to a point. If I wrote my posts under the name Nicholas Derek, would you believe my name was real or fictional? The fact is, readers have no clue about the real identity of probably 90% + of the posters on this (and many other) blogsites. How do you prove what cannot be proved barring the addition alongside a post of a passport or other form of photo ID? You cannot! So “courage” or the lack of it has nothing to do with what name one uses.

  • Leda Lebedkina says:

    Cui bono? Another conductor’s wife helps to ruin a rival. How new or original is that? Only she forgets that her husband is not immune to calumny, and tomorrow some person out of grudge, envy, malice or fun will accuse her Fabio of wrongdoing. Maybe it will be a rival’s conductor niece or nephew. And her Fabio will be thrown on the spot. How will she like that?

    • Stephen Moore says:

      Well said. This email should not have been published here. If every conductor, male or female, who has touched an orchestral player is now to be persecuted then not a single one will be spared. I hope that Dutoit’s legal team knows of this blog and pursues action against it.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      How vile.

      People wonder why nobody wants to come forward, but why would anyone when you have comments like this. The suggestion is that “she was secretly gagging for it” or that “she is inventing the stuff to further her (husbands) career” suggests that she is on trial rather than the alleged perpetrator. Somehow “innocent until prove guilty” doesn’t apply to the alleged victims. This is exactly the attitude and behaviour that allows poor behaviour to continue.

      • Steve P says:

        Innocent until proven anything seems to be a forgotten relic of law in this whole #metoo phenomena. No doubt there are many cads getting their due public humiliation, but – using the law of averages – one must presume a fair share of the accusations are either misrememberings (putting it mildly) or outright slanderous lies.
        I’m not one to judge, but this one seems a little questionable.

  • Michael Dart says:

    I still don’t approve/understand Mrs. Luisi’s attitude. This story, probably one of many to come out now, found in Norman’s Facebook page, sounds more appropriate to the situation : « Cher Norman
    Je tiens à faire part de mon expérience assez douloureuse avec Mr Charles Dutoit et qui eut pour une jeune chanteuse en pleine ascension dans sa carrière des conséquences négatives sérieuses .
    Je fus engagée par Mr Charles Dutois sur audition pour interpréter le rôle de Mélisande au Théâtre des CHAMPS ÉLYSÉE en mars 1995 Avec l’orchestre national de France qu il dirigeait .
    Dès le début des répétitions je fus harcelée par des remarques sentencieuses, des propositions sans équivoques, des messages enflammés sur mon répondeur téléphonique .
    Refusant de donner suite et feignant de ne pas comprendre je fus tout à coup la cible de remarques désagréables d’humiliation devant l’orchestre et mes camarades solistes.
    Lors d’une dernière répétition en sortant du maquillage je suis surprise dans un couloir par Monsieur Dutoit qui me coinça contre le mur il se mit à me caresser la poitrine et autres me forçant à l embrasser.
    De ce jour je demandais à mon mari de monter sur Paris afin qu’il ne me lâche plus d’une semelle lors de tous mes déplacement au théâtre jusqu’à la fin des spectacles.
    Il fut avec moi d’une humeur massacrante ne m’adressant plus jamais la parole.
    À ce moment Monsieur Glotz mon agent artistique avait déjà réservé pour moi de nombreux récitals et concerts à travers le monde avec Monsieur Dutoit.
    Ayant refusé ses avances il téléphona pour tout annuler!
    Bien entendu mon agent artistique me conseillera de ne pas faire de vagues ce qui aurait été préjudiciable pour ma carrière.
    Anne-Sophie Schmidt »
    I think with that one Dutoit’s music life is over…
    I’m also happy to finally read here people talking about gay sexual harassment. It happens more often than people would like to admit. And if physical constraint is not relevant, psycho and carrear damage are real.

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    I believe Harold you said you were,a,staff council representative.
    I would take the,wording “staff council representative”
    as being an an attorney.
    Please better define. Staff council representative title a long with your rants about death row and exexuted,inmates presupposes you are an attorney or at least trying to pass as ,one

    • Steve P says:

      Go ahead and put the beverage down, Charles, and go home. One more comma and you’d have to be put asleep along with Harold at the local vet.

  • Julian Reynolds says:

    == I do respectfully suggest to NL that something should be added to the software to ensure that the registered name and email address are somehow linked.

    I second that – it’s too much of a free-for-all