The tenor who smashed his girlfriend’s head is back in business

The tenor who smashed his girlfriend’s head is back in business


norman lebrecht

December 20, 2017

The Korean tenor Alfred Kim was arrested in Toulouse nine months ago, charged with banging his girlfriend’s head against a toilet bowl until it broke.

He was given an eight-month suspended sentence and an 8,000 Euros fine and promptly fled the country. Toulouse Opera made him pay the costs of cancelling the last performance of Verdi’s Ernani.

That was in March. In December, Kim is back singing Manrico in Frankfurt Oper’s Trovatore. He’s quite a public favourite in Frankfurt, where he spent five years as an ensemble member.

In the coming months, Kim will sing Radames in Madrid’s Aida, Turiddu in Rome’s Cavalleria, Cavaradosi in Toca in Valencia and Enzo Grimaldi in Berlin’s La Gioconda.

What does this say about the opera industry’s attitude to sexual violence?

More on the subject here.



  • Gonout Backson says:


  • Corkee says:

    Syntax, Mr. Lebrecht ….. so often an issue on this site.
    So what broke? The toilet bowl or his girlfriend’s head?

    • May says:

      does it matter? the man is a monster.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Clearly you regard this as a huge joke.

    • Una says:

      Oh, for heaven’s sake! Is that all you can say about a monstrous scenario and violent abuse??? I think most of us with even half a brain, and some moralit, get the point without Norman being given an English grammar lesson for Christmas!!!

    • Max Grimm says:

      As Una points out, most of us got the point without having to ask. The answer to your second question however is “neither”.
      He hit her head against the toilet seat until the lid shattered. Had he hit her head against the actual toilet bowl in a similar fashion, I doubt the young woman would have survived.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I was just thinking…. maybe the tenor was specializing in Regietheater and had forgotten that the director’s instructions stopped at the opera building’s exit. This would explain his re-invitation in Frankfurt, where they may appreciate a particular kind of gründlich Regietheater: ‘A singer who studies his part SO thoroughly is perfectly suited for the presentation of old repertoire with which we try to awake contemporary sensibilities’.

    • Thomasina says:

      I just wonder if you could not understand what really mattered here or you thought that your joke was funny.

      • Corkee says:

        First, as someone who experienced unwanted sexual advances from older males as a very young teen, I take all such reports extremely seriously and would never joke about them.

        My comment was meant ONLY to point out Mr. Lebrecht’s very frequent grammatical ‘confusions’ – not to mention outright errors. He needs a good copy editor.

        Please don’t be so obtuse and hasty in jumping to conclusions.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Not sure it was his, er, girlfriend. AK acted dreadfully, but what would it say about the opera world if it also indulged in this one-strike-and-you’re-out-no-right-ever-again-to-earn-your-living-in-this-profession? Is the world really only populated by angels and demons?

    • Nik says:

      What about Tito Beltrán? Would you like to see him on stage again?

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        TB did more than just the one thing – allegedly – and no, I wouldn’t like to see him on stage again. I’m not bothered about AK, either, I just think it’s too easy to ban someone for life for one thing. People who have done much worse get off lighter.

    • Rationalist says:

      For violent assault? Are you kidding? Absolutely, one strike and you’re out. This isn’t a “mistake”, like cheating on your girlfriend or knocking over a lamp while drunk. There is no excuse, under any circumstance. This man belongs in prison. With a lengthy sentence.

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    He’s not the first violent tenor I know of.

  • Susan Weiss says:

    And, sadly, he won’t be the last violent tenor, I have heard of either.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    What it says about the music business/industry, as we have seen time and time again and as we see in other industries (e.g., Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall St, etc), is that men get off easier, a lot easier, than women. And men are more likely to be protected than women. And it isn’t just abuse and other transgressions that often get overlooked in males but also the quality of their singing even when in steep decline. Men are supported in continuing to cheat the public for decades on end (e.g., Domingo, Furlanetto, Carreras, Nucci, Female singers do not have it so good (e.g., the interminable abuse and consequences Kathleen Battle has had to endure for decades, for by-far less than this Kim tenor; or James Levine for that matter). The hypocrisy in the business has no end.

    • Nik says:

      I can point you to quite a few of your posts where you complain about female singers who get away with “cheating the public”.

      • Sanity says:

        Yes, and there are some very bad singers, male and female, who do ‘cheat the public’. There’s also a raft of fine female singers no longer singing on the major stages simply because they’re past 50. Why did Carol Vaness’ career end early, for example?

        • Ungeheuer says:

          Sexism. Just as Hollywood is incurably infected, so is opera. Especially now that they are cinematizing it. Note that the odious and rampant sexism in these and other industries is exercised equally by men, straight, gay and in between. Lots of soul-searching to be done.

    • MWnyc says:

      Kathleen Battle has had to endure abuse (in print and on computer screens) because she dished out abuse – a lot of it, and in person. And she continued to do it long after she put San Francisco Opera through hell and then got fired by the Metropolitan Opera.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The story confirms the misunderstanding that people running opera find it difficult to distinguish between libretti and reality.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    At first I was surprised at the mild punishment but but perhaps similar to professional sports figures in similar situations.

    • kaa12840 says:

      Does anyone know actually what was the reason for such a light punishment? Was there a trial? Did they find “extenuating circumstances”? It is France after all, they have a reasonably vigilant attitude towards these things

      • Max Grimm says:

        ” Did they find “extenuating circumstances”? “

        While I personally don’t see how this should count as extenuating circumstances, I do recall him claiming that he usually didn’t consume alcohol and that he had no memory of events after having “a lot of white wine” with the young woman he ended up assaulting.
        It was reported that the court viewed as mitigating the fact that he hadn’t committed any previous violent/criminal offences and that hotel security and the neighbours that initially intervened reported him to have been in a crazed or deranged state.

  • Realist says:

    Having a rare and highly sought-after voice type excuses a multitude of sins in the opera world, it appears.

    Had he been (say) a mediocre lyric baritone there is no way he’d ever work again. Got a loud top C and plenty of stamina? Back you come!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “…Toulouse Opera made him pay the costs of cancelling the last performance of Verdi’s Ernani…”

    Are there not understudies for this sort of thing?

  • Charles Fischbein says:

    Amazing I stopped watching the thugs playing in the National Football League because if this behavior.
    I guess higher culture does not equate with morality.
    Public figures who abuse others regardless of gender of the victim should be made to pay a high price both legally and professionally
    It seems in this case a get out if jail free card was handed out incorrectly.
    Perhaps men and women if good will should boycott this thugs performances..

  • EricB says:

    The problem goes largely beyond “sexual abuse”. There’s so much “moral abuse” that is being ignored for years, in spite of numerous alarms and complaints. There are many people who wonder why a “moral abuser” such as Dorny is still operating in Lyon, in spite of numerous complaints for the last decade and having been fired from Dresden before he even started his contract there…. Impunity is really a great problem in the opera world.

  • Jhasoa Agosto says:

    It’s not the opera company’s fault that his sentence was not severe enough. The fact is no punishment is severe enough if you were to ask most victims because the trauma is so pernicious and deeply rooted. Let’s face it he could have given 60 years in prison and it still may not be enough to the woman he brutalized. There are some other important questions to ask.

    Does Mr. Kim have a history of violence? Is this a pattern of behavior? Or was this the first time this has happened? Is there no room for rehabilitation and reform? If someone commits a crime and is penalized through the systems put in place to adjudicate crime, do we have the right to continue to punish the criminal past the point where the law has deemed sufficient? Or do we not give second chances? Or do we scratch the whole legal process (which I am not claiming is perfect) and just carry out vigilante justice and mob rule?

    The problem isn’t the industry (I mean, it has it’s major, MAJOR deficiencies), it is a legal system that hands out outrageously lenient sentences like that given to Mr. Kim.

    Ultimately, the audience must adjudicate Mr. Kim on what they pay him for: singing. Lest we all loose our livelihoods based on any errors in judgments or abuses we ever commit at anytime in our lives, regardless if we have already paid our restitution.

  • Mr. Schwa says:

    Is this guy from North Korea or South Korea?? And do we know what she might have done to upset him?? His behavior is beyond reprehensible but I do want to know all the facts. Are they still seeing each other??

    • Max Grimm says:

      “Is this guy from North Korea or South Korea??”
      South Korea

      “And do we know what she might have done to upset him??”
      That is unfortunately unknown. According to the court report, he has no recollection of that evening, past dining with the victim in a restaurant and there is no mention of any possible explanations given by the victim, at least none that were disclosed publicly.

      “Are they still seeing each other??”
      She was never his girlfriend. The court report indicates that she was a newly made acquaintance.