Opera is ‘a breeding ground for sexual bad behavior’

Opera is ‘a breeding ground for sexual bad behavior’


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2017

The US mezzo-soprano Cindy Sadler has published an important, extensive and far from comprehensive catalogue of commonplace abuses in classical music and opera.

Two years ago, Cindy collected testimonies of sexual harassment and assault for a report to AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists. It is not clear whether the report was ever published, but certainly nothing changed – as evidenced by the spate of allegations about James Levine and sundry others..

Some of the stories she recounts are chilling in their sheer familiarity.

Here’s one:

‘My anger, even to this day when I think about it, never really centered on him. It was my colleagues and the staff that made me both livid and hurt. I couldn’t believe no one in the room said anything or helped me. I was surrounded by people but completely alone. Everyone knew it was wrong. There were at least six other people in the rehearsal besides the two of us, and no one said a thing.

‘I never reported him. It seemed obvious that this was just how he behaved, and everyone knew it. He was a big star, and I was just another young soprano.’

Read on here.


Rape scene from William Tell, Covent Garden. photo: ROH


  • Anonamezzo says:

    God, this is what is considered “writing?” A bunch of anonymous stories cut and pasted and five or six badly written paragraphs by a self-important character mezzo? Jesus.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A comment which fits into the story, supporting the continuation of abuse.

    • Working Tenor says:

      On Anonamezzo…why so insecure? Don’t you think this kind of exposure is important and that Cindy deserves credit for putting her own career at risk by shining a light on what has been a major source of frustration for many of us in the profession? Why cut down? Why not rally behind Cindy and show what a great colleague and human being you can be? Perhaps you’re an offender yourself and are lashing out to feel better about your own inappropriate behavior? Need to get something off your chest?

      • Anonamezzo says:

        “Putting her own career at risk?” HAHAHA. She does it for the attention and to seem an “expert,” to better her little career. We all roll our eyes.

        I’d rather some real writing and reporting on such things. Thank God other people are in the works for something other than a sad blog post. Folks told me that she jumped on the bandwagon to share the Post’s bad report yesterday, with a disclaimer all about her article. She had to take that shit down when people who actually knew things called her out. Perhaps a pausa is in order. It’s not all about her.

        But hey, they self-import, lack of journalistic integrity, and memememe-ish of it all continues.

  • JeffM says:

    So, this is a collection of anonymous reports that is “important”, yet you call the Colaneri story uncorroborated, though it clearly is in the story. Interesting.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    There you have it

  • Scotty says:

    Maybe nothing has changed in the two years since her report was published, but how are decades-old accusations against Levine evidence of that?

  • Sue says:

    Why stop at opera? Let’s run the behaviour police through all strands of society!! And don’t forget grammar and diction!!

    • Anonymous says:

      So rape and other forms of sexual assault are permissible? Because one of the testimonies listed in the AGMA report is definitely rape. And you seem fine with that.

      For those not in the industry, here’s your wake-up call. Sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape are endemic. Emotional and physical abuse is also widespread. It is protected by power structures built by the abusers themselves.

      Take a hypothetical example:

      The staff bar at a German house stays open until the early hours of each morning. The company members are encouraged to ‘party’. One company member takes their first drink of the evening. They feel woozy. They pass out. They wake up to find themselves being stripped and sexually assaulted. They complain to their Operndirektor; but their Operndirektor is an abuser, so nothing will be done. They are told they shouldn’t go to those kind of parties. The parties held by their employers…

      So can they go to the Intendant? No. Because the Intendant is known for being in and out of bed with members of the ballet company.

      Can they go to their Sprecher? No. Because the Sprecher is terrified of the administration.

      Can they go to their agent? Perhaps. But then amongst those figures reported to those numerous reputable news sources collecting testimony internationally, agents have already been named.

      If their agent is sympathetic, will that agent get a sympathetic hearing at Opera Europa or IAMA?

      Have a guess…

  • Mr. Schwa says:

    Last night I had a nightmare that I was being groped by Hans Knappertsbusch in the orchestra pit at Bayreuth. Should I bother to report this?? The mezzo who was covering Kundry was recording the assault on her cell phone, but she did nothing to help me.

    • John Borstlap says:


      • Mr. Schwa says:

        No more childish than many of the stupid comments here, including yours. I reached out for support, and I suppose you will side with Knappertsbusch. You probably don’t even know what key Parsifal begins in.

        • Mark Henriksen says:

          f min?

        • John Borstlap says:

          A flat major. And the work ends in the same key, and in between all other keys are used-up.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          It is indeed childish and inappropriate.

          By presenting your intentionally silly tale here you are implying that the credible accounts of real victims are equally silly and impossible.

          That sort of chorus by the fan boys is what enabled the predators to laugh off accusations for years.

  • Bruce says:

    Human society is a breeding ground for sexual bad behavior.

    Some fields of endeavor are probably more susceptible to it (e.g. performing arts, where being good-looking and willing to do what others want are true job requirements), but I seriously doubt that any environment — up to & including convents and monasteries — is immune.

    That, of course, doesn’t mean nothing should be done about it. Human society is also a breeding ground for cholera.

    • Sue says:

      Let’s start by eliminating due process because, after all, it’s part of the patriarchal culture.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I agree! It’s men doing bad stuff, war, assaults, burglaries, internet crime, atomic bombs, and singing flat in opera.


        • John Borstlap says:

          Sorry about this…. I should have the door locked. But it has been us who found-out how to cure cholera, and also we developed the vacuum cleaner so that they can spend their life by intervening in our own business, like typing such inappropriate comments.

  • Una says:

    Obviously with the spelling of ‘behavior’ as it stands, you are referring to America, Norman?

  • Cubs Fan says:

    In the early 70s a neighbor introduced me to a friend of his, the up-and-coming conductor Ken Schermerhorn. I was seriously considering a career in music, having studied piano for years and a sought after rehearsal pianist for ballet and opera. I mentioned that maybe I should go into conducting. Schermerhorn said something I have never forgotten: “kid, there’s a lot c*cksucking in this business”. That was enough for me, a god-fearing, red-blooded cowboy who felt as much at home at the rodeo as in the concert hall. His blunt words instantly decided my life path. Now, with all the news coming out about sexual abuse and scandal in the music world, he was right.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Do you mean there’s no c*cksucking in the cowboy business? I have no idea myself, just thinking about some vulgar Hollywood movie.

  • Sandie says:

    Seriously, I have seen really inappropriate behaviour in some local classical institutions that work with young people. I would hope these men are now watching their behaviour a little more now. It is not older men who should be exposing their version of ‘sexual liberalism’ on young people. It’s bad enough that I would not want my children anywhere near some places.