The Met must apologise to John Copley

The Met must apologise to John Copley


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2018

Since Slipped Disc revealed what really happened to get John Copley fired by Peter Gelb, more leaks have emerged from the chorus rehearsal room, none of them creditable to Gelb.

It appears that John Copley said jokingly ‘if it were me I’d like to see him naked’ about a singer who was not present.

One member of the chorus, who speaks poor English, somehow thought the remark was directed at him.

On this basis, and without further investigation or consultation with chorus members, Peter Gelb told one of best loved opera directors in the world to get out of his building.

Now Gelb, we know, is under pressure. The Met does not have enough money coming in, either at the door or from donors. He is about to start a new round of negotiations with the unions. And he is losing sleep that the law firm’s investigation about who knew what about James Levine might point a finger at him.

That’s a lot of pressure. Under pressure, people make mistakes.

Peter Gelb needs to be man enough to own up that he was wrong to fire John Copley, and to ask him to return. No-one will hold it against him, and he will have the good feeling of restoring an old man’s reputation.

We don’t mind how he does it – even through the tepid New York Times – but that apology is required to redress a horrible injustice, one that has left many singers feeling very angry at the Met.



  • Bylle Binder says:

    amen to that – and the quicker the met reacts, the better.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      This assumes that Mr. Gelb is rational, honest, and introspective. He possesses none of these qualities. Should there be more to the accusation, the Met should man-up and say so. To do otherwise is to sully a fine man’s well-deserved reputation.

    • Maria says:

      Yes yes yes!

  • Jack Ewing says:

    This is the level of insanity the left and feminists have reached in America. You can’t even ask someone if they’re married today without being labeled a pervert. No compliments, no jokes, no human warmth allowed. When I was a boy or teenager I knew how to defend myself from advances or abuse and it would only happen once, that person would never bother me again. No drama, no trauma. Matt Damon tried to reason with these demented people, tried to explain the difference between predators like Weinstein and someone who simply tells a joke, he too was destroyed. The safe-space snowflakes cried like babies and crucified Damon.

    • Roger says:

      Please don’t politicise this. What it’s about is a cover up for decades and a token and utterly inappropriate sacrificial victim.

      • Enough says:

        The MET politicized it by trying to cover it up in an under-the-fold article in the NYT. What’s next? Censorship of the works themselves? Opera is ABOUT sex, period. If you cannot frankly discuss sex, and sexual desire in a rehearsal room then this art form will die a fast and irrelevant death. (Even a first-year acting student can understand that Copley’s reported comment was an instance of discussing a rather standard “substitution”; re-read Uta Hagen. But it made some poor #MeToo snowflake “uncomfortable.” Grow a pair.) This production needs to be roundly boo’ed off the stage at its opening (or at its HD) in recompense for this foolish course of action; the cast should drop out to avoid being the scapegoat for Gelb’s incompetence.

      • Sarah Connolly says:

        Indeed that’s what it looks like – I hope not..

        • Debbie says:

          Do you know the chronology here — when the “incident” occurred, when John was fired and when Robert had his stroke?

          • Anonymous says:

            Robert Rattray suffered his stroke on Sunday. According to the reporting on this site, the complaint was brought to the Met on Monday. Please don’t try to tie the two together. What happened to Robert was devastating. It’s hurtful to those of us that cared for him to try to connect his death somehow to this complete clusterf**k.

          • Sharon says:

            Rattray had the stroke on Sunday Jan 28 and was on life support on Jan 29 when Copley made the unfortunate remark. Rattray died the 30th.

          • David Nice says:

            Couldn’t agree more about the odious attempt to politicise this. Anyway, Slipped Disc has got it all right – I’m in total agreeement. And it was quite hard to find out what Copley actually said elsewhere.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      PERFECT analogy. Sadly, at this moment, there is no perspective or reasoning. It isn’t political, it is simply common sense. Thank you, Mr. Ewing, for stating it so very well.

    • Sue says:

      Bravo for calling out the authoritarian Left who very predictably wouldn’t want their tactics “politicized”. Well, good people know that game is up and we have Jordan Peterson to thank for that. We have no more patience for the Left and its storm troopers.

      • MacroV says:

        Oh for crying out loud! This isn’t a “Left” thing; it’s just a stupid thing. Like a lot of movements/trends, something that made sense initially (i.e. going after people who not only engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior but abused their positions of power and potentially ruined victims’ careers) has now ventured into more dubious territory (going after anyone who seems to make someone else uncomfortable). And at least in the US, the political right will not hesitate to go after a left-leaning person for similar infractions.

        Not everything is political or Trump-related.

      • Dame Sarah Connolly says:

        Well said Sue and thank you for bringing Jordan Peterson into this. Each complaint must be assessed individually and not lumped together in some mad Maoist ideology.

        • Cynical Bystander says:

          I think your understanding of politics is somewhat askew. Maoist? Gender and Identity politics and the whole # phenomenon transcends the concept of left and right. This incident is part of the general trend to ‘call out’, dreadful phrase, social, and more particularly, sexual behaviour by libertarian groups who have little interest in class politics as we understand it. Politics in the strict left/right sense plays little or no part in it. Mr Copley, if what he said is in fact what really happened, has fallen foul of the po faced prudery that now prevails but to claim that it is left wing inspired is really pushing it. But, hey, if that’s what you think then everyone is entitled to their opinion, until someone calls it out, sorry again, as …..phobic, the other bete noire of today.

    • WW says:

      Spot on, Jack Ewing! I’ve worked in the theatre and on Broadway all my life. If everyone who ever made such a casual allusion were fired there would be nobody left on either side of the footlights. Matt Damon was right. [And James Lapine is a completely different story.]

  • olivia says:

    And the picture that the NYTimes used for the headline is WIDERLICH. MS Papian is furious!!!

  • Lydia Wahlberg says:

    Peter Gilbert is a mistake.

  • Olassus says:

    Well said.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    And yet Levine was allowed to run free for years. Time to fire the board, and all of the management and start over from scratch.

    • Mark says:

      Do you have any evidence ? If so, forward it to the Proskauer partner who is handling the investigation. If not, shut your pie-hole and stop defaming a great musician.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        This “allegation” is pretty well-established by now, and accepted by virtually everyone except the most craven Levine sycophants (which apparently includes you).

        • Mark says:

          Really ? What exactly has been established ? That he had consensual sex with much younger men
          above the age of consent ? The Supreme Court has decriminalized that in Lawrence v. Texas.
          Anything else, putz ?

  • Gregory Hlatky says:

    Of course Mr. Copley deserves an apology for what happened in light of this absurd incident.

    But first, apologies should be given to every undergraduate male dragged before a campus Star Chamber where his guilt is assumed in advance, every man called into HR and berated by some Woke bit of fluff for comments even more innocent, every employee forced to attend a Diversity Sensitivity struggle session to be accused by the SJW Red Guards, when James Damore is given his job at Google back. After all those people are taken care of, Mr. Copley should get his apology

  • Hyper-sensitive times require particularly strong leadership and this means precisely to NOT yield to the general hysteria of a pitchfork-waving mob, engaging in a witch-hunt.

    • Sharon says:

      Helmut: That’s easy to say but hard to do. The Met employs 3200 people directly and tens of other businesses directly depend on the Met to stay in business. Hundreds depend on it directly or indirectly for a large portion of their revenue. It is a hugely important economic engine in New York City and the NYC tourist industry would shrink by maybe 15% without it. It is responsible for tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions in tax revenue because although the Met itself does not pay taxes its employees, subcontractors and businesses which feed off the Met do. It’s a huge responsibility.
      I remember reading the memoir of the general who was the head of the UN “peacekeeping” troops in Rwanda who had a nervous breakdown when he realized what was happening and how little he could do to stop it. This was a general with years of leadership experience. Yes, genocide is not the same as the potential failure of the Met but I just want to point out that even the best of leaders are human.
      I am a nurse and we say that nursing is stressful because of we have a lot of responsibility with very little authority. This is why some nurses and nursing institutions become obsessed to the point of ridiculousness with damage control and CYA.
      The same thing is happening at he Met. Gelb has a lot of responsibility but very little authority, that is, control, over the whole public relations and declining revenue mess.
      Yes the right thing to do would be to apologize but to do so publicly would keep the issue in the news. I suspect that the Met has quietly reached some sort of settlement with Copley

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Please do not use numbers and statistics that are wildly off just to make a point. The Met is not the economic engine you portray. Also, Gelb has MUCH authority because he has bamboozled the board for years and they are too lazy to exercise their oversight responsibilities. Finally, it is very generous of you to describe Gelb as human. This has not yet been established as fact.

  • roger says:

    seems to be too late for apologies – the story was picked up by the Associated Press so will be published everywhere. See below. Perhaps John Copley should be taking legal advice.

    NY opera fires stage director for ‘inappropriate behavior’

    The Associated Press

    Thursday, February 1, 2018, 6:26 PM
    NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s Metropolitan Opera has fired world-renowned British stage director John Copley for what the company calls “inappropriate behavior” during a rehearsal.

    The 84-year-old Copley was let go two months after Met Music Director Emeritus James Levine lost his position amid sexual abuse allegations.

    In a statement released Thursday to The Associated Press, the Met said a chorister complained about Copley’s behavior in a rehearsal room this week. It said Copley no longer would be directing a revival of his own 1990 production of Rossini’s “Semiramide” (she-meeh-RAH’-meeh-deh), which opens Feb. 19.

    Met spokesman Tim McKeough declined to offer details. Copley’s agent declined to comment.

    Copley is a director beloved by some of the biggest singing stars who have worked with him for more than six decades.

    Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Nick2 says:

    No matter what is now in the public domain, Gelb made a mistake by not investigating an issue which arose simply because one chorister did not understand what John was saying. He took offence when none was intended and clearly no one else at the rehearsal found the remark offensive. Gelb’s action was utterly disgraceful. As NL states above, Gelb MUST apologise publicly. Whether or not John can now be reinstated for this production, I do not know. But I am sure if he was asked to return following an apology, he would do so. May I add how wonderfully heartening it is to see so many distinguished artists write here on John’s behalf.

  • Olga says:

    Beloved MetOpera becomes a theater of absurd, it is very sad.

  • David H Spence says:

    Peter Gelb’s sell-by date has already passed. Anyone who at considerable expense would even revive the LePage Ring once and keep hiring Michael Mayer back – for no sufficient reason at all – really needs to go. Not to mention the sloughing off on rehearsal time, especially for the Met orchestra.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      And don’t start me about the “Merry widow” with the Broadway director who hadn’t understood a thing about fin de siecle in Vienna and got it entirely wrong! Her Danilo wasn’t an European noble man but behaved like a cowboy in the salon; Hannah became a coquettish old hag and Valencienne – the one who always maintains that she’s a decent woman – behaved like a professional. It was really embarassing to watch and without any charm!

  • herrera says:

    Ah, now, the non-native-speaker-who-misunderstood defense.

    I see the other defense failed: I am a harmless old man with a distinguished career.

    Here are other defenses:

    – I was just joking, can’t you take a joke?
    – It’s different / accepted in my profession
    – I’ve done this all my life and people have accepted it

    Here’s one that always works: I deny everything. Should have gone with that one from the beginning.

    Stand firm Peter Gelb, don’t be cowed by all these have-beens with foreign bestowed titles attached to their names. In America, the rule of law applies to all equally. In America, we have no royalty (and these titled entitled ones are not even noble, much less royal).

    Herrera, Everyman.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      As a woman who was once subject to sexual harassment in the job (and we’re not talking about a few misogynic jokes, but my boss appearing at my flat around midnight, a bottle of cheap pro secco in his hand and saying “Don’t play coy! I know how you got your last job!” and fired me because I nevertheless wasn’t willing to let him in) I am actually rather “touchy” when it comes to the subject.
      However, in this case I can’t fight the feeling that you’re overdoing it, too. An opera house isn’t a nunnery and a professional rehearsal isn’t a children’s playgroup in kindergarten. I don’t know John Copley personally, but I kind of know a few of the people who’re now standing up for him – and there a some from whom I know that they wouldn’t defend a predator (like Dame Sarah Conolly who’s known for speaking out her mind!).
      I’d be with you if we would talk about sexual harassment here, but for heaven’s sake – a joke like this isn’t already sexual harassment and I think feeling threatened by something like that is overdoing it by far. I don’t think the entire #me too campaign (and I’m a member and a defender of it) means a new victorian bigotry and an environment where no one is allowed to make a more or less salacious joke anymore.
      In German we have a saying: To throw out the baby with its bath water – and that’s exactly what you’re doing. I fight against persons of power believing it’s okay to use their power for gaining their sexual satisfaction; I fight against inappropriate touching, of situations in which the “weaker” person feels threatened (I don’t think the chorus singer in question could maintain that he felt like “Oh my Goodie, if I don’t drop my pants for this director I’ll lose my job!”) or insulted. But I certainly don’t want an environment where a harmless joke about a man’s wish (and isn’t it kind of normal that a gay man wishes to see a handsome man without his clothes? I freely admit that I once sat in an Ulisse where the baritone was only wearing a loincloth and thought: “I wouldn’t mind him losing this thing and showing us his rather nice backside!” Borders that – in your opinion – already on sexual harassment though I’d never tell this baritone?) becomes a big thing. If people can’t even deal with something like that anymore, if “political correctness” is going so far to make a fuss about something like that the world will become a rather boring place. Flirting won’t be possible anymore, joking – better don’t do it because some especially sensitive little flower could feel harassed! – und we’re best always run around with a blind fold so that no one could say we’d looked at someone with a sexual interest)
      I stay to what I’ve said before: Peter Gelb overdid it in this case! To suspend the conductor who’s accused of real sexual acts and to fire the director who’s just said a line which was not entirely “correct” – it sounds like a bad joke!

    • Andrew Okulitch says:

      Yes, the rule of law is important and that is what is missing in this situation. Statements in writing or recorded, witnessed interviews, mediated exchanges between ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’, attempts at conciliation; the whole due process was seemingly absent and bad judgement demonstrated on all sides. Everything else you wrote is wrong or irrelevant. Copley made a potentially insensitive remark but Gelb made a major mistake by not following due process. A forthright apology could have ended the whole fiasco, but he doesn’t have the good judgement to make one.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I assume that the MET will be posting thought police in the auditorium/public spaces to catch unsuspecting members of the audience who might utter an inappropriate comment about someone on the stage. Comments about a currently adored tenor del giorno will result in rough manhandling into Lincoln Square, particularly if they are octogenarians.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      I’m just thinking of two very distinguished older ladies who around 20 years ago sat a row behind me in Covent Garden where “Le nozze” was done. As Thomas Allen as Almaviva appeared on stage one of them gushed: “Oh my goodie – he’s sex on a stick!”
      Should I have called for security to kick them out?

      • Laura says:

        Delicious story. Thanks.

      • Company member says:

        A director is in a position of power over a company member. Comparing that to being next to someone you don’t know in the audience is irresponsible and absolutely absurd. I also find it ridiculous that one of the loudest voices in this thread, Sarah Connelly, wasn’t in the rehearsal where it happened. I’d also like to point out that a number of cast members who have commented and stood up for Copley were not in that particular rehearsal either.

        • Bylle Binder says:

          My “story” didn’t compare the two situations with each other. It was just a kind of “answer” to what CYNICAL BYSTANDER wrote above. I’d be grateful if you’d read the entire thread before attacking me for being “irresponsible” and absurd.
          Besides I think you were rather unfair towards Dame Sarah Conolly. She never maintained she was a witness of the incident in question and would defend Copley because of that, but she said she’s known him for donkey years and she can’t imagine him threatening someone. In a German court (and forgive for being German) someone like her would be called a “character witness”.
          Yet following your logic that only people who were witnesses of the incident are able to judge about one wonders how Peter Gelb comes in to the position to fire the old man. Actually I can’t imagine he was around at this rehearsal, listening to what was said.

          • Company Member says:

            You’re making jokes about an incident that was taken very seriously by someone whether Mr. Copley’s comment was meant as a joke or not. I’m actually not defending the firing itself. I don’t understand why Mr. Copley wasn’t given the chance to apologize. That being said, I am concerned that many people in the company and around the world are judging a situation they clearly know very little about. My apologies, but my comment to Ms. Connelly was in reference to a thread of comments from another slipped-disc article. That’s my mistake. However, I am less concerned by what is fair to her as a “character witness” on a thread of comments than by the further shaming of a chorister who was clearly upset by a remark that was absolutely inappropriate.

  • Hamilton McClymont says:

    I am boycotting the Metropolitan Opera until Peter Gelb goes, because he sacked John Copley summarily. Stories abound about John. Here’s mine.

    John came to Vancouver at my invitation in 1979 to direct Judith Forst in her debut as Carmen. Though he rarely directed productions he hadn’t had a hand in designing, he agreed to remount our old production because he was interested to work with Ms Forst. One night he was working with the company on the entrance of the Toreador. He wanted the chorus to react as if a hugely famous and popular athlete was entering the lists. Trying to increase their enthusiasm, he shouted, “He’s Guy Lafleur, and you all go mad – even the boys!” It was funny. Everybody got the joke and laughed. More importantly, everybody got the direction, and the scene was better for it.

    I deplore what the West is becoming. Though I have loved opera since I discovered it on my radio in 1954, I protest. Gelb and his company will get none of my money while he remains there.

  • roger says:

    Well, they are not apologising. Instead they have come up with a very explicit version of events to cast aspersions on John Copley. Meanwhile, the cast has apparently refused to attend rehearsals.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      This report has been cobbled together from quotes in Slipped Disc, the Times and the New York Times. It contains no original reporting.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    Quite apart from anything else, and I can’t believe the alleged quote in the Telegraph, it would be unthinkable to re-visit this wonderful production, which I savoured three times at its premiere and last staging 25 years ago, without its esteemed creator at the helm. Of course he should be reinstated immediately, and delivered an unequivocal apology. This appears to have been an unthinking, knee-jerk reaction at a time of stress.

  • jeremy says:

    My god, James Lapine as well? Where will this end?


  • herrera says:

    Copley and the union offered to issue a written apology to the chorister.

    Bravo for being steadfast Mr. Gelb.

  • Achorister1 says:

    While this latest incident with Copley may amount to nothing more than sensitivity to a mildly inappropriate remark, believe me, Copley has a long history of bad behavior with opera choristers. Decades of it. And I don’t mean sleazy remarks, I mean actions. Companies have responded by “not having him back” rather than firing him outright, which has no doubt enabled to him to continue without facing his problem.

  • Company member says:

    This sort of behavior has been occurring for far too long. One “sir” in particular has been far more abusive and offensive than Copley could ever be. Yet, nothing has been done for years. I just hope the Opera community can finally address these issues.

  • Roger Ohlsen says:

    Having been in New York City opera chorus for 30 years and having many gay and lesbian stage directors make many sexualized comments one learns that that is the humor of that culture and rolls with the punches otherwise get the hell out of this business. Sticks and stone etc.