The Met is in a ‘moral panic’ over John Copley

The Met is in a ‘moral panic’ over John Copley


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2018

A reader of the New York Times has contributed the paper’s first balanced assessment of the firing of an 84 year-old director of unblemished record for making an allegedly inappropriate remark.

Here’s today’s letter:

To the Editor:

I was deeply disturbed by the Metropolitan Opera’s firing of John Copley, described as “one of the opera world’s foremost directors.” I am not an opera fan, but I was dismayed to read that he was fired because “a member of the chorus reported that Mr. Copley had made him uncomfortable at a rehearsal on Friday with a sexually charged remark.”

There is no longer any doubt that our culture is in the grip of a moral panic the likes of which we haven’t seen since the day care child abuse hysteria of the 1980s, and, before that, the congressional witch hunts to root out supposed Communists nearly 70 years ago.

In ordinary times, a possibly inappropriate remark at a rehearsal would have warranted, at most, advice from a superior that it not be repeated. But these are not ordinary times.

As quickly as you can say “Harvey Weinstein,” we have moved from an overdue cultural wake-up call about sexual predation to the frightening point where a comment or gesture, no matter how casual or innocent, can destroy a brilliant career. What matters is not the intent, but whether the recipient felt “uncomfortable.”

Alleged “crimes” such as this have resulted in the resignations or firings of fine men like Senator Al Franken and the former WNYC radio hosts Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz. Eventually, we will return to our collective senses, but apparently not before we have added even more names to our modern-day blacklist.



  • Sanity says:

    I doubt the Met is in a moral panic about this at all.

    No-one is talking about Levine now, or speculating about any of the other abusers whose names appear on the Met roster for this season.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      When you say no one is talking about Levine et al do you mean their names have been airbrushed out and it’s as if they never existed?

      • Sanity says:

        No, I mean that people’s attention has been drawn away from them towards Copley. A great hoo-ha has been created and no-one is asking the important questions about those figures in the industry who have caused great distress to so many.

    • Yes Addison says:

      Yes. With all due respect to Mr. Lebrecht, who obviously thinks well of Mr. Copley and believes a terrible wrong has been done, this isn’t that big of a story in New York. It’s a revival of a production from 28 years ago, slotted between a new Tosca and a new Cosi in the slow part of the season. It’s by no means automatic to bring back the original director to supervise such a thing. They certainly don’t ring up Sonja Frisell every time the Aida (only a little older) gets done. Another director just tries to follow her book. I wouldn’t even want to guess when Zeffirelli was last in a Met rehearsal room–probably 20 years ago, and not for a Boheme revival.

      This time they did ask the director, Copley, back, and it didn’t work out well, and he was sent on his way early. He probably wasn’t going to be creating new work there in the future anyway.

      The Semiramide will have its opening, and it will be a success or not a success based on the singing of Meade, DeShong, Camarena, Abdrazakov, and the others, as well as the playing under Benini. I doubt anyone is going to say, “No telling what theatrical magic could have been achieved if Copley had been allowed to stay after telling the guy in the chorus he wished he could see him naked!”

      • Andrew says:

        This comment completely misses the point. The merits or otherwise of Copley’s production are not what is under discussion, and to take this opportunity to critique his work is profoundly distasteful. Meanwhile, it may not be “that big of a deal in New York” but you can be sure it’s a big deal in many other parts of the world, and you can be equally sure it’s a very big deal for John Copley, who does not deserve such wicked treatment and public humiliation.

        • Yes Addison says:

          You’ve conflated two comments, sir. I didn’t criticize Copley’s production of Semiramide at all. It was someone else who commented below about seeing it in 1990 and not finding anything special about the direction even when it was new.

          My point is that some of the coverage of the incident has been hyperbolic. This affair isn’t rocking the Met. A capable assistant director has taken over, Semiramide is going to open, it’s going to get its allotted performances, and it will be adjudged a success or not a success based more on musical factors than how many days of rehearsal the original director was present for.

          As for Copley’s original offense, my opinion is that we change with the times or we become obsolete. I hope you’d acknowledge there are jokes people used to make on a host of topics and they could get by with it in 1955 or 1975, but not in 2018, and not in a workplace.

          • BillG says:

            In response to you concluding statement, all I can say is that the thought police are alive and well. Transferred from Saudi Arabia Religious Police here to keep everyone of pure thought.

        • Ana Luiza Daltro says:

          Bravo, Andrew!!! And well said, Sanity.

        • stephen Moore says:

          Well said.

  • BillG says:

    It should have been intuitively this was coming. We are now divided into two camps.
    1) Those who believe each case should be consider on its merits.
    2) It the accused is white and male, guilty as charged.

  • Kundry says:

    I agree with the NY Times, Kenneth Coughlin article. There is no place for offences perpetrated against underage victims, but they need to be proven in a court of law , not online. The same goes for assaults of any kind – we live , supposedly, in a society of laws not of innuendo and gossip. When assaults happen , they should be reported and proven in a court of law. Don’t come after 30 years and tell me a story and pose as a victim! Unless you can prove it, that in itself is an assault of calumny ! These days , one can invent a story, put it online in a reasonably convincing fashion and destroy a person in less than 24 hours. McCarthy in the US and the KGB informers during the Communist times , were less effective than the kangoroo courts functioning today. The John Copley incident, was blown out of proportions, which shows that the slippery slope we are on is very steep. One suggestion – close opera theaters , but keep the salaries running :). This way, nobody can possibly be offended. Gelb and the MET Board are continuously surprised by events of all kinds – artistic, financial , moral , etc. and react with the finesse of an old bulldozer ready for the scrap metal yard.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Admittedly campy, but knowing well all of the Met personnel, I was reminded of an exchange in “Absolutely Fabulous”. Patsy lamented that she was experiencing a moral crisis, upon which Edina reminded her, “Pats, you have no morals”. Maligned as Joe Volpe often was, I witnessed many instances of sound judgement and kindness during his years. Those were the days…and we sold tickets to boot.

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    I don’t think Copley’s dismissal will ultimately affect the success of this upcoming Semiramide revival. I was at the opening night of this production back in 1990, and it was a pretty dismal affair. There was no hint of any great directing by Copley, and it was certainly devoid of any great acting or drama. The only good thing about it was the virtuoso singing of Marilyn Horne.
    The Met needs to move on from this and concentrate on it’s future.
    They need to decide what to do with James Levine. Will he be back to conduct or not?
    All indications seem to point to his permanent removal from the Met.
    Why is the Met dragging this on and on?
    They are currently without a full-time music director, and also do not currently have a principal guest conductor.
    These issues are far more important than an octogenarian director lusting after a chorister.

  • Eric says:

    This letter doesn’t technically say the “Met is in a ‘moral panic'” which you suggest your misleading headline. It says that our culture is in a “moral panic.”

  • Ashley Michaels says:

    Hello all,

    I really thought by now that Peter Gelb would have apologised – with pressure by the union and some other chorus members.

    Clearly that is not the case.

    As a result I’ve written-up a petition. I don’t know if it will have any effect, but it is a nice show of support for John Copley, a great opera director and all-around terrific man.

    I really hope all of you reading this will sign it.

    Here’s the link:

    All my best,

  • Robin Blankenship says:

    When one considers the contents of many opera plots, the actual lives of many of the composers of opera, even the often displays of nudity on stage in modern productions of opera, it is astounding that anyone associated with the Met would have the cojones to voice such hyped up hyperbolic outrage over what is basically normal human thoughts. Wagner was a savage anti-semite and a serial philanderer. Beethoven was notoriously abusive towards his sister-in-law and nephew. Mozart was at least suspect in his marital faithfulness. And Puccinni?? Yes, Puccinni……………… So why are the work products of these individuals still be staged by the Met?? Anybody actually notice the activities in the first act of Rigoletto? Or, the second act of Parsifal?

  • Angela Cockburn says:

    Am I the only person who has looked at the libretto at this point in the action?

    It is the big ending to Act 1. The chorus has already expressed horror and consternation at various stages in the Act – the temple got the shakes. Now, at the appearance of Nino’s Ghost, they are required to show yet more horror and consternation. This is difficult, as the bass soloist playing Nino is not there.

    May I suggest that at this point, in order to get appropriate and individual reactions, Mr Copley used a standard ploy among stage directors – he gave different, slightly startling directions to different people. For example:

    “I want you to see Nino in full armour, I want you to see him naked, maybe you see him pushing a shopping trolley…”

    In each case the response – from the libretto – is the same: “Che orror! ” – ” What horror! How horrible! ”

    “Visualise the ghost naked” – “How horrible! ”

    Most fully trained modern opera singers would have recognised the directorial tactic and been amused by it.