Exclusive: Bust-up in men’s chorus today over John Copley’s dismissal

Exclusive: Bust-up in men’s chorus today over John Copley’s dismissal


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2018

We hear that this afternoon, during the first Semiramide rehearsal on the main stage, the rehearsal was brought to a standstill  by a loud argument between several chorus men regarding the dismissal of director John Copley.

The argument was very loud and tense.  A large section of the chorus is still very upset that one of their members complained about John’s ‘inappropriate’ comments, resulting in John’s dismissal. This was the cause of the row.

Peter Gelb’s stonewalling has not calmed the situation and the production is suffering the consequences.

John Copley, who is 84 and known to singers as Uncle John, has never before been fired from a production in all his life.


  • Sue says:

    The fact that a person’s reputation can be undone because some snowflake takes offense is a sign of our repressive and intolerant times. It’s a vigorous contest in the Victim Olympics.

    I hope Copley is vindicated and continues to remain active and well.

    • pooroperaman says:


    • Michael Comins says:


    • Flosshilde says:

      Quite!!! My only consolation is that many people are standing up against this madness in general and this shameful decision in particular. Bravi to all the chorists that got upset and started this argument.

    • Michael says:

      At the wonderful premiere of Barrie Kosky’s Carmen this week there is some highly “inappropriate” (not my word or view, just using the current jargon for anything fluttering on the border of political correctness) behaviour between male members of the chorus in the first part which I suspect could simply not be shown at the Met as presumably the behaviour was initiated by the director as part of the rehearsal process.

      One example: a much older male chorus member behind a much younger male chorus member reaches round to massage his breasts/chest and licks the young man’s cheek and leans around to try to kiss him. Unless the behaviour was completely improvised and never suggested by the director, we can only assume that he would have been fired on the spot if either of the two men in question – or anyone else within earshot – had objected to the director’s suggestion as to what they might do at that point.

      It was completely “appropriate” to the stage action, but the firing of John Copley came immediately to mind as I watched and – I hardly believe I am writing this – I seriously feel that all stage directors (not just in opera) must now be revising with the utmost care their approach to the creative process.

  • Kundry says:

    John Copley is a wonderful stage director and a charming person,highly intelligent, full of wit and a great story teller. His rehearsals are a pleasure and he can motivate artists like few people I know . It took a real moron chorister, easily replaceable ,born yesterday and totally ignorant of what the opera theater is about, to make a comment from John into a “case”. Grow up ! Unfortunatelly, he is not the problem, or alone – there are countless of other dimwits in opera theaters around the world ready to jump on the new PC trend. The real problem is Peter Gelb and his inept handling of the situation , the worst manager the opera world has seen and the equally inept Board which supports him. The sooner all that crowd leaves , the better. At that time , we will also find out the real extent of the financial disaster which is sitting on the MET’s books. As a foot note – why do we need so much blood for Parsifal ? Why are we treated like idiots who cannot understand Wagner and why can’t the MET get some real Wagner voices ? People ! – all of them Vogt , Pape ( not a basso – please, put on some ears ! and Herlitzius are too light and too pushed up for what the score calls for , especially in a 3850 seats hall. I am done! Excuse me , but I need to go to the Yannick shrine and fall on my knees Mrs. Demarest !

    • STAN says:


    • Mark says:

      The singing was adequate, but Yannick’s conducting is soporific and lacking direction.
      Levine’s been accused of taking slow tempi in Wagner, but his interpretations are magisterial and engrossing. If this is the future, I’ll stick with my record collection …

      • Kundry says:

        Sorry, Mme.Desmarais ! I spelled her name incorrectly ! I hope not to be in trouble with the Canadian philanthropy police :))

    • Nino's ghost says:

      It is possible to be a “wonderful stage director and a charming person,highly intelligent, full of wit and a great story teller”. He is all of these things. He also crosses the line into objectifying professionals, which isn’t charming to everyone. The employees of the Met were required to attend sexual harassment training, where they were instructed by the Met’s attorneys that these things must be reported, and that only repeated unwanted behavior was a fireable offense. If the chorister was following protocol, and (according to the NY Times) the union had agreed that John would satisfy all parties with a written apology, how does that fall on the shoulders of a “moron chorister”? Doesn’t follow. You can’t possibly argue that a man saying to another person in a professional situation that “he is imagining that person naked in his bed” is appropriate. He is a witty, fun, and talented director, but that comment (not an isolated incident) is by no means acceptable, whether said to a man or woman. Fireable? I don’t think so. But chorister was completely justifiable in reporting it.

      • Henry says:

        ” … saying to another person in a professional situation that “he is imagining that person naked in his bed” is … by no means acceptable, whether said to a man or woman.”

        Thank you for making it crystal clear how people like you think. This is the purest essence of snowflakeism.

    • Flosshilde says:

      Absolutely right in everything you said, Kundry! Spot on.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Most are taking Mr Copley’s side in this, their prerogative, but more than a few are equally using the incident to vent their anti Gelb animus. We think we know what was said between Mr Copley and the chorister, although neither have actually confirmed or said anything at all outside whatever internal prcedures took place. This incident happened against a clear change in attitudes to what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and whilst many of us might find it nonsensical, myself included, it is none the less the case that the mood has changed and we are not faced with having to deal with the change in our day to day work. Peter Gelb might not be the person to run the MET, but maybe in this case he was walking a very fine line, particularly with ongoing matters relating to Levine, which were there under previous regimes. Mr Copley might feel he has been badly treated, it may equally give him cause for thought about what was, but is clearly no longer, a bit of cheeky banter, but it hardly represents the full extent of woes of the MET and who can solve them. By all means complain about what you see as the poor way this matter has been handled but the alternative is to ignore the concerns of the complainant in these strange times of # victimhood and the fact that mea culpas by other named and shamed perpetrators do not appear to be acceptable to those “calling out” behaviour not so long ago seen as just John, or Hervey, or Kevin or any others not yet named and shamed.

    • Derek says:

      A fair assessment. The climate has changed. It is to be hoped that the right balance can be found.

      • pooroperaman says:

        Indeed. The climate has changed: a) because jokes are apparently now forbidden (cf. the bizarre recent attempt to ban ‘Are You Being Served?’); and b) because audiences are now being forcibly deprived of the opportunity to see the work of great actors like Spacey, great conductors like Dutoit and now great directors like Copley, whose offences, whether real or imagined, are apparently of greater consequence than either their talents or their achievements. It cannot be long before the mob sets fire to the National Gallery.

  • Robert Rÿker says:

    “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Genius or not, it is hard to be seen by everyone as an angel. But the comment I thought summed up what our society now faces today was Derek’s final quip — it is hoped that the right balance can be found.
    A tricky thing that. Can we start in Washington?

    • MWnyc says:

      Not for a while we can’t.

      • Kundry says:

        Re: John Copley and my comments – the incident could have been handled very easily with a conversation involving John , the “15 minutes of fame” chorister , Union representatives and proper legal counsel. All presided by Gelb. By all means , it was not necessary to fire 84 years old John summarily ! The idea of John as a harasser is downright ridiculous.
        I am starting a list of non PC greats , who did not have the benefit of our enlightened PC times:
        – Richard Wagner ( add here King Ludwig whose contribution was essential to establishing the Bayreuth Festival)
        -Dmitri Shostakovich at the age of 28 – the genius who composed Lady Macbeth of Mzensk ( lots of sex and other non PC scenes there) – situation “rectified” rather brutally by Stalin, after he saw a performance of it
        the list is open for further additions …………….

  • Save the MET says:

    The Copley firing is another glaring example of Gelb’s managerial ineptitude. I sense very strongly that he has to goods on at least the President of the executive Board of the Metropolitan Opera. Any other manager would have been shows the door years ago. Keep in mind he was regarded as inept at Sony Classical where he was shown the door in the merger with BMG. With his Godfather Wilford and his Father deceased; the power he had via those two men are entirely diminished.

    His most recent SNAFU’s, sitting on information on Levine after the police contacted him and not professionally investigating the allegations at that point and the knee jerk firing of Copely shows him as inept and incapable of further involvement with this large and complex organization. He’s a managerial nightmare.

    It stands to reason that the Board get off their laurels and replace him.

  • criggs says:

    The following is a personal subjective synthesis of everything I’ve read in all the news accounts, including those from SlippedDisc.

    There appear to be two versions, and both appear to be in agreement that Copley said whatever he said loudly enough to be overheard by many other people, which makes the fact that there are two versions all the more baffling.

    One version says that Copley was asking the chorus to form a mental picture in their mind of what Nino’s ghost looked like. Specifically, this version reports that Copley said to one of the choristers “imagine that Nino’s ghost is naked.” Furthermore, many versions of this report also include the tidbit that this particular chorister had a weak command of English.

    The other version says that Copley walked up to a chorister and said “I’m imagining what you look like naked.”

    Clearly the first version basically exonerates Copley. The second version makes Copley look like the bad guy.

    Is there an objective logical basis on which one version appears more credible than the other?

    Well, I did a little sleuthing, as I have a friend in the chorus. This chorister was NOT present for the incident, but he did tell me that the Semiramide chorus is small, consisting only of permanent staff choristers, and that there are no temp choristers in that production (my friend is a temp chorister, pulled in for large chorus productions, like Parsifal, Trovatore, and so on).

    Here’s what I’m getting at: as I understand it, permanent Met choristers, for the most part, have been there for many, many years. How credible is it that any of them would not have a good command of English?

    This is at least one possible reason why the second version may actually be somewhat more credible than the first one.

    As I say, I have spoken to no one about this incident who was actually present, and I claim zero knowledge of it myself. But the weak-English claim would seem to lack prima facie credibility.

    I’m sure there are other aspects to this which may point in the opposite direction, namely to the first version being more credible. In other words, I’m not claiming infallibility, or that I’ve solved the mystery. I just point out that there does seem to be a potential problem with the weak-English claim.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Odd that in the case of Levine and Spacey the complainants are being totally believed and both are judged guilty even whilst investigations are continuing, wheras in this case it is the complainant who is being judged more harshly even though it appears that there is no disagreement that something occurred that he found objectionable and that he complained about, which is his right. I am making no suggestion that the accusations are in any way comparable but it seems ‘Levine ‘ and ‘Spacey’ are sinners whilst ‘John’ has been gravely sinned against.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      To make any comparisons between the situations is ludicrous. Period.

    • Flosshilde says:

      Period indeed!!! Also, even if Uncle John had said what this second report claims that he said (the “I wonder how you look like naked” thing), which I REALLY don’t believe he did, one has to be a really delicate and spoiled little flower to make such a scandal out of what would be just a silly joke made by an old man. This was just ridiculous, and that’s why so many people are angry! In my opinion, we should all be sparing our energies to fight against REAL sexual harassment and violence – and there is still a lot do be done in this department. If the defenders of this hysterical PC wave take over (and my goodness, they are trying really hard!), every single joke and sign of humanity will be banned from all work environments. Perhaps even from life.

      • Nino's ghost says:

        The NY times reported that, when confronted about the chorister’s claim by Met management, John Copley didn’t deny he said it. He himself has confirmed it, so why do you think otherwise?

        • Flosshilde says:

          Because the fact that Uncle John hasn’t said anything so far does not necessarily mean that what these people (and the New York Times, with which Peter Gelb has high family connections) are saying is true. He’s way too above this whole madness to bother making comments about it and defending himself as if he had done something hideous. Also, the atmosphere at the Met must be really tense and heavy right now. This story still hasn’t ended. So Uncle John is probably being wise and doing the right thing by remaining quiet – at least for the time being. We shall see…

    • roger says:

      what a ridiculous juxtaposition. and you are implicitly making the comparison/moral and legal equivalency by your juxtaposition.

      cynical — perhaps

      bystander – who knows?

  • Kundry says:

    As a possible conclusion to this ridiculous saga, I have a direct message for John:

    Dear John, I am one of the many artists who worked with you. I enjoyed immensely your knowledge , creativity, funny jokes and yes ! – even the off color ones – and I left your rehearsals with a smile on my face and not tired by the tediousness many other boring , PC directors create in their rehearsals and productions. As you arrived at the happy age of 84 , please, take to heart our gratitude and respect ( I am certainly not alone in that ) , have a nice scotch and f..k off the MET and the new PC police !

    • Flosshilde says:


    • Tiredofitall says:

      I was going to second Kundry’s comment, but didn’t… then I thought, heck, why not? It was a perfect message that speaks for many friends and fans of John Copley. When you think about it, it will be one more great tale for Mr. Copley to tell (and brilliantly). May he spread the word about Gelb far and wide.

      • Michael de Navarro says:

        Absolutely agree with Kundry. Many more productions John and down with snowflakes and the Met

        • William Evans says:

          Here, here! While I do not condone harassment for one second, given that the comment (if, indeed, accurately reported) was seemingly humorous and made in full earshot of a group of male singers ‘for effect’, I really cannot see how any objective view of the reports can regard Sir John’s utterances as abusive. If male choristers were offended I am extremely surprised, as most choruses of which I have experience can readily tell the difference between a joke and a serious comment.

  • Michael de Navarro says:

    Absolutely agree with Kundry. Many more productions, John and down with snowflakes and the Met