The Met modulates its tune on John Copley

The Met modulates its tune on John Copley


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2018

The Metropolitan Opera has amplified its original half-truth on the sacking of John Copley with some further details released to the London Times, following Slipped Disc’s compherensive account.

The Times’ chief news correspondent David Brown writes:

The Met said last night that Mr Copley allegedly told a chorus member: “I’m thinking of you in my bed with your clothes off,” which left the singer feeling “extremely ill at ease due to this sexually demeaning remark”.

The spokesman said the comment, which was overheard by other singers, led to the chorus member being unable to appear in that evening’s performance of Il Trovatore because he felt upset and distressed. “Peter Gelb spoke to Mr Copley, who did not deny the incident,” he added. “After further discussions with the chorus member, who felt unable to continue working with Mr Copley because of the hostile, sexually charged environment that had been created, Mr Copley was asked to leave the production.”

This argument has been undermined, however, by a statement to Michael Cooper of the New York Times by Leonard Egert, the national executive director of the chorus union.

Egert said in an interview: It’s our understanding that a written apology to the chorister involved and a slight modification of the rehearsal schedule would have been sufficient to resolve this.’…

Mr. Egert said that while the chorister said he did not want to work with Mr. Copley in the rehearsal room, the union believes that he was — and still is — willing to work with Mr. Copley in stage rehearsals provided that their interactions are “limited.” But the Met official said that it would be impractical, and unworkable, to try to limit interactions between any director and performer.

With each successive utterance, Peter Gelb’s hasty decision to fire a director of unblemished record looks ever more misguided and disruptive.

The injustice could still be settled by a Gelb apology, but that appears to be unlikely.


  • Dan P. says:

    It was previously reported that Mr. Copley was speaking of someone else, who was not present at the time and that the chorister in question misunderstood due to language limitations. What the Met is saying he said is quite different. But, even if Mr. Copley said what the Met spokesperson said he said, why isn’t a simple apology more than adequate? Why is he so torn up about it? Is he a child? One would think that someone who had spent enough time in the arts to be performing at the Met and lives in a metropolis and has probably seen everything would be grown up and sophisticated enough to toss off a silly – if someone hopeful – remark such as this. If this is the worst that happens to the chorister in his lifetime, he will be extremely lucky.

    And, if the story is as it was originally told, why can’t everyone involved just grow up?

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      Dan P.: I couldn’t agree more!

    • Saskia Ellmer says:

      I totally agree!

      • Don says:

        I agree with Dan as well. There is no legal basis to claim a hostile workplace. One incident does not create one. Plus the union, which represents both the chorus member and director, has said there could have been a resolution. But apparently no one tried to resolve the issue. Just a knee jerk response surely meant to counteract the criticism over Levine. True they managed to change the subject but the Levine miasma is still hanging over the Met.

    • MDP says:

      Whilst an ill advised remark (if true), the chorus member should grow up.

      • Bylle Binder says:

        And by doing so growing a pair wouldn’t be too bad either.

        • Collin says:

          Ganging up on a chorus member is the cheapest of all shots.

          I can’t think of a member the star system that is the opera hierarchy who is more anonymous and easier to make fun of, even the stagehand is represented by a very powerful union (and gets far more pay and benefits, believe me).

          Pick on Gelb, he has teams of lawyers and publicists behind him, but of course he’s not reading this blog.

    • Una says:

      He’d soon work with John if he got a big solo part!! We worked with him at Scottish Opera and he was great.

    • Sue says:

      Impossible in a world of endless victimhood and a desire to punish.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      If Mr Copley said what’s maintained here, it was inappropriate. There’s no doubt about that and I also no doubt that he owed the chorister an apology. However, as long as there were no pressure in the direction “and if you don’t come into my bed I’ll fire you!” I can’t understand the big fuss made about. I mean, the entire #me too campaign is – at least for me – a fight against men in power using this power to get their sexual satisfaction. But it’s certainly not one against every inappropriate saying done in the work environment.
      A chorister who can’t perform after a director made a salacious remark must be a really touchy little flower indeed. As I started to play in professional orchestras one of the first things I got to learn was the “the only reason for not performing is you carrying your head under your arm!” line (and I can tell you: As a very young and rather pretty woman who played an instrument with was at this time still mostly played by men, I got my fill of salacious remarks! Besides I got the nickname “the roll of barbed wire” for the way I answered back to these remarks). What happend to the good ol’ “the show must go on”-discipline?

  • Barry Leonor says:

    Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion. Worst thing he ever did? Nope. Its what they had on him at the time. PG doesn’t just walk around firing people. A complaint was made, policy checked, lawyers consulted and a firing ensued. Management was given no choice. Its difficult because JC is elderly and nice and sweet and a great director and all those wonderful things. Doesn’t mean he didn’t ALSO create a hostile work environment by saying what he said. JC has not denied it or defended himself in anyway. If it went down the way the MET has reported- corroborated by the other party and 1 witness and JC makes no defense or denial- the Met has NO choice. Its a legal thing- not a knee jerk reaction. He’s not defending himself or denying anything because most likely he would like this to disappear quickly. Were there is smoke- there is fire. There is ZERO chance this is the first and only time he has ever said something like this to someone he shouldn’t have.

    • anon says:


      why would an innocent person apologize?

    • Don says:

      You are simply incorrect. See below

      Hostile Work Environment Based on Sex – Sexual Harassment
      New York Hostile Work Environment Lawyers
      Despite the fact that the law demands gender equality in the workplace, sexual harassment is still rampant, even in New York. The most prevalent form of sexual harassment is called hostile work environment harassment. The New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates understand the laws that are meant to protect workers from a hostile work environment. If you are facing inappropriate harassment at work, Phillips & Associates can help.

      What is a Hostile Work Environment?
      Conduct that constitutes sexual harassment can be verbal, written, or physical. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination; however, men can be the victims of sexual harassment, and the genders of the harasser and victim are irrelevant, meaning that it can occur between two men or two women. Additionally, the person making the claim of harassment need not be the victim. It can be anyone who is affected by the situation.

      There are two ways in which a hostile work environment can occur. The first is through actions that would create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment to a reasonable person. The second occurs when unwelcome conduct interferes with a person’s ability to do his or her job. In both cases, the conduct in question must be severe or pervasive. This means that one instance of harassment may not create a hostile work environment. However, extreme conduct, such as a sexual assault, or repeated, less-severe conduct may create a hostile work environment.

      • anon says:

        The point is, one does not know if there had already been other instances reported, Copley may not have been the first, and even if he were, if PG lets Copley slide this time around, then the next time it happens even with someone else, a pattern would have been established, and the hostile environment created, and PG would be in deep shit for having let Copley slide, even if Copley only represents a single instance.

  • me! says:

    If it is as you write here, Copley should have been fired – a comment like that is clearly sexual harassment, harassment and wrong at work, especially when the maker is in a position of power – shocked (or not) commenters saying male on male sexual harassment should be tolerated at work. Especially in light of current environment of awareness and respect and consequences, and lack of all above re Levine and others over decades, clearly right – and Copley not fit to work with others as no indication first and only time did or would do this

  • La Verita says:

    Maybe Stormy Daniels’ lawyer could could arrange for a hush-money payment & a non-disclosure agreement.

    • anon says:

      For $130,000, I’d let Copley see me naked. Hell, for $130,000 I’d walk across the stage of the Met naked for its Live Telecast. (Not sure the audience would much appreciate it though)

      • John Rawnsley says:

        Only $130 grand ANON? I think you might need me as your agent!!

        Mind you, If I were to walk across the Met’ stage naked, I am sure that the audience would see bits of me that even I haven’t seen for years…..!!!
        That is irony by the way….and irony = causticity, cynicism, mockery, satire, sardonicism, the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect …..

        Not many people understand irony ….especially at the Met’ me thinks ….!

  • Joey says:

    From what I read, there is absolutely no injustice here. Gelb took the right decision. And the old man should be banned forever from the Met or any other institution.

  • Flosshilde says:

    What a whole load of bollocks!!! Of course the Met is lying in a desperate attempt to make this outrageous decision look a little bit less bad. What they are saying now is not what was reported by initial (and reliable) sources of both Slipped Disc and professional singers I know. This stupid and spoiled chorister, the union leader and, most of all, the management at Met should be ashamed of themselves – as well as these fascist PC maniacs, who created the environment that made absurds like this one possible. Shame on all of you!!!

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Spot on…

    • Nino's ghost says:

      I was there when it happened. I was in the room. Several people heard him say it. the Met’s account of what happened is spot on, the speculation on the website has been hearsay, likely from Copley supporters. Copley has done this type of thing before.
      I have witnessed it before. The famous singers coming to his defense, as often happens, do not know that side of him, because he saves his inappropriate comments for the choristers and young artists who are often scared to report anything. Until now. Should he have received a hand slap and made an apology? Yes. It was something the chorister was expecting. The Met took the safe route, which I really can’t blame them for these days. I feel bad for John. Not so much because he got the raw end of an internet movement, but because he spent decades of his life unaware that his unprofessional and piggish behaviour objectified intelligent and talented artists. When changing that behavior became a matter of professional survival, he was too far down that road to know how else to act.

      • Andre Heller-Lopes says:

        I am sorry but I have worked with Copley as a Young Artist at Merola and at Covent Garden and have never ever seen him behave like you described, going after Young Artists or Chorus members. I have also assisted him more than once (including at the Met) and had one-on-one coaching with hm countless times; never did he even try anything inappropriate — and I don’t think I am that ugly!!
        Look, I’ve known him since 2001 in and out of rehearsal room and opera houses and never did John Copley behave inappropriately. He tells jokes, yes, witty and very British “slap in fhe cheek” style but that is all. It is what makes his rehearsals so pleasant to everyone. I can understand you would hide behind a Semiramide inspired nickname and I can even respect your opionion BUT the Copley you describe is not the guy I’ve know for almost 20 years.

        • Me! says:

          You don’t seem to realize people are neither attracted to everyone who “looks alright “ nor choose to harass everyone they come in contact with- that is basic . The point of #metoo movement is to create an environment where allegations aren’t denied as untrue immediately (and here nyt etc reported statement which was witnessed and acknowledged) and can be reported without hostility to victim (so allegations can be reported and better environments created)- telling an underling you imagine them naked is not acceptable no matter how popular with others the person is

          • Flosshilde says:

            The problem with this #metoo madness is exactly the fact that it uses the excuse of creating environments where complaints “aren’t denied as untrue immediately” to create a world where EVERY complaint is immediately taken as true and indisputable – regardless of facts and of the contexts in which episodes happen. This is dangerous, authoritarian and does not help at all the victims of real sexual violence or harassment.

          • Andre Heller-Lopes says:

            Let me see if I got this straight: to condemn someone as respected as Copley is becauss an anonymous source might have understood that a joke was offensive is OK — even considering that more than one report says thar the person in question might not fully understand English. Ok.
            However, to share my personal first-had experience with Copley, as a Young Artist (Nino’s text expressed that he saw him behave badly towards YA) and assistant is not to be taken into account?
            That is not the way I would call “fair trial”.
            I read what you have to say. I ponder your opinions and affirmations. Cant I contribute with mine? Because you don’t agree they are to be discharged? Great…

          • Flosshilde says:

            The vast majority of the people in the business that I know say exactly the same things you did, Andre. This very convenient second version seems very, very weird for everyone who knows this director well enough to say anything.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          I have worked places where colleagues have made “risque jokes” about me which I was supposed to laugh about. It was unpleasant and spoiled the work environment for me. I didn’t stay long. Just because you didn’t mind, even enjoyed it “makes rehearsals fun” doesn’t mean others (male or female) are happy to be the object of sexual comments. It isn’t witty.

  • La Verita says:

    Maybe Stormy Daniels’ lawyer could could arrange hush-money payment & a non-disclosure agreement.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    We clearly do not know the circumstances that lead to what now appears to be the uncontested statement, but it seems somewhat inappropriate when written without context. Would, I wonder, female singers be happy to have this said to them, particularly if they are young and not to appear ageist, particularly given Mr Copley’s age? This can equally be said of the male chorister, gay or not. As we grow older we grow a thicker skin, and maybe some of us are now so old as to forget what it was like when younger to have what we might have considered to be old men/women making highly personal remarks at our expense. Nowadays, anyone making a suggestive comment to me would be a compliment but I certainly would think twice about ‘flirting’ with someone younger, unless of course the person concerned was playing a similar game. Which is a roundabout way of saying that we still do not know what actually happened and maybe it is best for all concerned that we don’t. Mr Copley is a venerable stage director with clearly a lot of people on his side, but what has happened has happened and lessons might have been learned by all parties to this rather tawdry affair.

  • harold braun says:

    This is so idiotic i don’t wanna wast my time on it…

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    My experience over decades has been that often, a hostile work environment is created and nourished by the directorial staff. And I am not necessarily speaking of conductors.

  • Nick2 says:

    The longer this saga continues, the more the cover-ups and the more pathetic the statements made by some of the posters here. John Copley is John Copley. He is not going to change, especially in his 80s. He has always worked in a certain way and has generally achieved wonderful results. Any opera company engaging him knows – or certainly should know – precisely the way in which he works. He has worked at the Met several times before. If there was no one in the Met management who did now know how rehearsals would be conducted and that they were likely to involve a touch of implied sexual banter, then they were plainly derelict in their duty. That Peter Gelb seemed totally unaware of this and the way he has reacted to it illustrates at the most basic level how totally unsuited he is for the post he somehow holds.

  • Mark says:

    Under NYS Human Rights Law, a single statement and/or a joke, is highly unlikely to rise to the level of sexual harassment, which requires behavior that is “continuous and pervasive”.
    So an old man made a silly joke. The chorus member in question is either prone to hysteria or just hopelessly dumb.
    The stream of Peter Gelb’s stupidity is flowing unabated.

  • The Met should think again.And not just about poor John Copley buts entire future.
    Peter Gelb is the man who will go down in history as the person who dragged The Metropolitan Opera in New York City from its hitherto lofty position to the gutter. Thinking about this it follows a line of behaviour from Gelb – do you all remember the wonderful Ruth Ann Svenson whose career ended after she had the nerve to complain about his attitude to singers of a certain size or temperament? Ruth Ann never sang there again. The Met , of all opera houses, is about the voice; it is not a beauty parade. But this is why we get the endless inadequate performances the Met churns out. Now and again, something happens and for a brief instant we are reminded of the pre-Gelb era. Sadly, that was not the case last last night – Il trovatore on 3 Feb. I stayed tuned in to the end just to see how much worse it COULD get – and believe me it did. Only the gorgeous Georgian mezzo had the quality to be on that stage. The rest …..I’ll stop. Anyone who loves singers should NEVER allowed the poor soprano to attempt the role of Leonora in public, let alone the Met. A complete humiliation for her and the company.As for the tenor….
    Based on that performance John Copley should think himself lucky NOT to be associated with a company in such political and artistic disarray. He’s had a lucky escape from the ashes of a once great institution and must only work where people experience his talent, experience, and yes, humour!
    A terrible footnote to all this is the death of Robert Rattray who was beginning to restore vocal allure to the Met. The hysteria and poisonous atmosphere at the Met surely contributed to his death. My heart goes out to his parents, both of whom survive him.
    Peter Gelb – please leave. Basta .

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    If this incident had not happened what would the peg have been to hang the ongoing ‘Gelb must go’ campaign being waged here? Constant talk of how the MET is diminished and parking the blame squarely but maybe unfairly at Gelb’s door. But, the turmoil of the latter years of the Volpe regime have been discounted as having played any part in the current crisis. The best available singers no longer tread it’s boards….which? The productions are too modern. The productions are too old fashioned. From what I see looking at the seating plan the prices are high compared with comparable houses and the place is just too big. Who would expect that performances of Parsifal would be so undersold a few days before the performance given the cast and a production that was well received on it’s first run particularly with the conductor designate flexing his not inconsiderable muscles? Is this all down to Gelb or is there something else? Still, if rumours are to be believed Slipped Disc can soon turn the spotlight onto Munich if Dorny gets the job. Mr Gelb might be glad of the break, but then perhaps running a huge organisation like an Opera House does not give too much time for reading blogs devoted to your downfall.

    • Nick2 says:

      “Is this all down to Gelb?” What a silly question! Of course it is! Did you never hear the phrase “The buck stops here?” When you are in charge of an organisation of any size and any complexity, it is the job of the CEO to ensure that the organisation runs effectively, efficiently and achieves its objectives. Gelb has patently not done that. Nothing is his resume would have given anyone not on the Met Board at the time any clue that he was even remotely qualified. Yet he remains in place presiding over an organisation he cannot control and from all we hear and much of what we see has been spiralling out of control for quite some time.

  • Frankster says:

    OK, folks, it’s time to clean house. I didn’t need to investigate Wagner. His foul-mouthed bigotry is in book form. (How many time have you heard that music from Lohengrin played at a wedding!?) I did google “ugly comment verdi” and found several what will disqualify him from further consideration. Same for Mozart and Puccini. Rossini was particularly artful in his many demeaning, disrespectful put-downs. Beethoven was nasty to everybody. Rimsky-Korsakov and his roommate, Mussorgsky, (the original Odd Couple) had opinions about each other nobody should see. It only took about 30 minutes to disqualify the entire list of composers for next season at the Met. Time to turn out the lights (No, that is not a sexual reference!). Sincerely, Peter Gelb.

  • Alex Davies says:

    “I’m thinking of you in my bed with your clothes off.”

    If true, this statement clearly is completely unacceptable. It’s interesting that none of the great and the good are coming forward to defend him now. Let’s face facts, no ordinary person would get away with a comment like that these days.

    • Nick2 says:

      Let us all note your qualification, “If true!” Clearly you were not there. Presumably you have read several reports of the incident, virtually all from people who heard the “statement” second or third hand. Is there in fact and direct quote anywhere from the chorister concerned?

      So, if you read those reports, then you will be perfectly well aware that you have no idea whatsoever if this statement was made to the chorister concerned, whether it was in reference to another cast member not at the rehearsal, or for some other reason. This was a rehearsal and Mr.Copley was attempting to get reactions from the chorus. It seems from what we have now heard from the choristers’ Union representative that the statement was misinterpreted by the chorus member concerned who appears not to be totally fluent in English and therefore misinterpreted the remark.

      You also state “Let’s face facts!” Perhaps if you realised that we still do not have the full “facts” of this episode you would not have made your post. Equally, you made the rather fatuous comment, “It’s interesting that none of the great and the good are coming forward to defend him now.” Why do you find that of interest, given that many of the great and the good came to Mr. Copley’ defence as the story slowly unfolded. Why would such major artists of the calibre of Dame Sarah Connolly, Dame Anne Evans, Samuel Ramey and others even consider it necessary to repeat their condemnation of Gelb’s action?

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Er…witness statement up-thread by Nino’s Ghost states (s)he was there and Met’s account accurate. That kind of statement by a senior person about a junior person would get you fired in many organisations.

        • Flosshilde says:

          Well, I don’t believe him. I really don’t! Judging by the language and cliches he/she used at the comment, this is clearly a typical #metoo madness thing, where people who were not victims of anything remotely close to REAL sexual harassment or violence make a public scandal without thinking of the possible consequences. We now live in a world where many people get offended by absolutely everything, refuse to grow up, have no sense of humour at all, have zero resilience and feel an incontrolable desire to be victims – of anything. It is sad and scary. And it’s making victims. Meanwhile, people like James Levine and Charles Dutoit, REAL abusers who should actually be in prison, remain practically unpunished. Congratulations, PC maniacs!

          • Alex Davies says:

            Agreed, if the allegations about Dutoit and Levine are true, and it seems very likely that they are, they should both have been in prison a long time ago. Of course, what John Copley is alleged to have done is not remotely as serious as allegations of rape and pederasty. But nor is it trivial by any means. “I’m thinking of you in my bed with your clothes off.” That is not something which it is acceptable to say to somebody who is not an intimate partner. If I said something like that to a work colleague, a student, a friend, a friend’s wife, my lawyer, my doctor, etc., I’d expect to be getting myself into a lot of trouble. Sexual harassment is not something to be borne with humour and resilience. It’s simply not acceptable behaviour, and victims have been expected to put up with it for too long.

          • Flosshilde says:

            Had John Copley said what this second version tells he said, it would have been absolutely inappropriate, of course! Not enough to justify him being fired straight away (let alone without even being able to explain himself!), but inappropriate enough for the Met to demand that he apologized for the chorister. However, I insist on the fact that this new version of what he said in this rehearsal sounds very, very strange to me and to all the people who know this director well. Strange and very convenient. I sincerely don’t believe it.

      • Alex Davies says:

        The facts of the case appear to have changed. Initially, it was reported that John Copley made an entirely different remark in the context of a discussion about how the chorus was to enact the moment when Nino’s ghost is seen. Mr Copley allegedly remarked to the chorus as a whole that he’d like to see Nino’s ghost naked. Allegedly, one chorus member who does not understand very much English misinterpreted the comment, thinking that Mr Copley was telling him that he wanted to see him naked. Now something very different is coming out. We are now told that Mr Copley told a specific member of the chorus that he was thinking about that particular individual in his bed naked. That is a very different situation to that originally described. It was not in the context of an artistic direction and it was directed specifically at the chorus member, not at a third party who may or may not have been present. The former situation was a joke that went wrong; the latter is sexual harassment. Nobody is denying that this is what happened, and nobody is coming to John Copley’s defence.