Soprano is fired as Girl in the not-so Golden West

Soprano is fired as Girl in the not-so Golden West


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2018

The international US soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs has issued this cri de coeur about her maltreatment at the hands of Maryland Lyric Opera. 

I am sad and disappointed to advise my friends, colleagues and fans, that I will NOT be appearing as “Minnie”” in the Maryland Lyric Opera’s concert presentation of La Fanciulla del West” at the Strathmore Performing Arts Center on September 15th. This is one of my favorite roles which I have sung all over the world in critically acclaimed productions led by Great Maestri.

With no warning or prior discussion I was “released” for NO stated cause, in an email, on Sunday evening, the company day off! This, not coincidentally, happened the day after I complained to the General/Artistic Director, about the rehearsals where I was humiliated, insulted and subjected to sexual innuendo, and generally unacceptable behavior by the Music Director, and requested that they would speak to him to control said behavior.

Three days later No One in the company has responded to numerous voicemails and emails, from my Manager, to explain this situation. They appear to believe they can act with impunity, therefor I am constrained to resort to legal counsel for satisfaction.

I am making this post not to evoke pity or sadness, but to warn my colleagues and students, that still, in 2018, in our supposed “awakened” music business, an Artist can be fired for standing up and demanding to be treated in a reasonable and professional manner. I have never endured such treatment in 20 years, no matter in a professional, amateur or University situation.

We have asked Maryland for an explanation.


  • Sanity says:

    They’re still using her name to advertise the second performance.

    Louis Salemno is the conductor. That’s the Louis Salemno who was fired from Portland Opera for ‘unprofessionalism’…

  • V.Lind says:

    Wow. There does seem to be a cause-and-effect situation here, one not lessened by the refusal of the company to respond to communications from her manager.

    Surely there is some way to call them to account for her summary dismissal and her original complaints and the subsequent ignoring of her questioning the firing?

    Her story above is not told sensationally. It rings with utter credibility.

  • David Ford says:

    It would be good to know the exact comments made regarding sexual innuendo, first, before passing judgment. In today’s climate, comments can be misconstrued and gain a lot of support “just because”, i.e. things being painted in black and white terms to fit some currently popular agenda.

    Has there been other complaints of sexual inappropriateness about him?

    From the article I’m reading about the Portland Opera, his unprofessionalism was linked to being too hard on musicians.

    • Bruce says:


      It sounds a little bit like you would like to be able to decide if it was appropriate for the singer to be offended at the “sexual innuendo and generally unacceptable behavior” she complains of.

      If you’ve ever unintentionally offended someone in real life, you will know that the appropriate response is to apologize (even a possibly hollow “sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you” will do), and then try not to do it again. Inside your head you can roll your eyes and think “wow, what an oversensitive crybaby” all you like. On the outside, you behave as if you respect the person’s feelings, even if you don’t, and you try to get along with them for the sake of the collective harmony (as in, “let’s just get through this without any further trouble”). Keep in mind that if others are present, they may be forming their own opinions of who is being reasonable and who is not.

      If you feel that they are an unreasonable person to work with, then you can turn down future gigs if they are involved.

      • David Ford says:

        We don’t know anything about what was said, or what was said back. He might not have been confronted with reaction to alleged comment. We just don’t know. You don’t know either. From what I read, it’s possible he was not confronted.

        I’m asking for more information before forming an opinion. Others seem to be accepting things at face value, unquestioningly, and writing stories of their own about how people should or should not have behaved.

        Innocent until proven guilty, remember? If you’re American.

        • Bill says:

          First, that’s not just an American thing – the pesky UN seems to think it should apply everywhere. In any case, not an American invention, and not explicitly stated in any of the founding documents. Also, it applies to criminal charges, none of which have been issued here.

        • Bruce says:

          David –

          It’s true, neither of us knows what was said/ done or if the conductor was confronted about it. We only know that Ms. Blancke-Biggs asked the general director to speak to the conductor about it, and was subsequently fired without explanation.

          What, exactly, was said or done is kind of beside the point. The point is what the response from the company was.

          • David says:

            And we only have one side of the story, and the company might be being asked not to speak on the matter by their legal team. Particularly about the sexual innuendo.

        • Maria says:

          Yes, very American …

  • Webster Young says:

    Thanks for championing her…

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Too many. For once, we would have actually have had an attractive looking Minnie

    • Rich Patina says:

      Careful, Barry! In this, the age of the #metoo star chamber, even the hint that you might find a woman attractive is grounds for condemnation and dismissal.

  • Marcus Clayton says:

    This is extremely unprofessional behavior by the Maryland Lyric Opera. Any singer should be able to rehearse and prepare for a performance in a safe, comfortable and professional environment. Any singer should also be able to voice complaints without fear of retribution.
    Ms. Blancke-Biggs should sue them for all she can.

  • Thomasina says:

    ” We have asked Maryland for an explanation”…Maryland is in an emergent situation due to Florence.

    • The View from America says:


      • Thomasina says:

        This morning I read a news in the MétéoMédia that they said ” in Carolines, Virginie and Washington D.C., 1.5 million people were asked to evacuate”…Maryland Lyric Opera isn’t right next to Washington D.C.?

        • Bill says:

          The storm’s predicted path has changed a bit, and it doesn’t look like DC/MD area will be hit that hard relative to NC/SC coastal regions.

          MLO is in Hyattsville, MD, only a few miles outside of DC. I’m not seeing anything about the nation’s capital bracing for the storm that would suggest MLD’s staff needs to be battening down the hatches instead of responding. Probably just hoping both storms will blow over!

          • The View from America says:

            The storm is hitting along the SC/NC border and then slated to move W/SW into Georgia. It will be 400 miles away from DC at landfall and heading in the opposite direction.

            In between sandbags and boarding up the windows (lol), evidently the opera company had time to send a notification terminating her engagement, but not sufficient time to respond to her letter of complaint.

  • Jose says:

    I think the REAL surprise here is that Maryland has an opera company.

  • Anonymous victim says:

    to anyone who is able to contact Anne Midget of the Washington Post, you can ask her to check her records from an interview with me. Within the past year when she was preparing her story about the #MeToo movement in the classical music industry, I told her in great detail about how [name redacted] had once lured me to his hotel room under false pretenses while I was working for him and made indecent sexual proposals. I managed to leave just in time without having to see him get naked, and later even heard from another singer that he had made unwanted physical advances to them too. I fully expect that many here might not believe me, and that perhaps this will even earn a few rude comments, however, I know what that man is like and what exactly happened in that situation. These sexaul predators thrive on the fact that they can put their subordinates into such situations where we are powerless to even prove what they tried to do. WHO can I complain to now? Seriously, if someone needs another character witness, I will be glad to testify as to what he did. This is not the place for me to be posting my name, but I will definitely try to contact Ms. Blancke-Biggs to ask if my testimony could help.

  • Zack Roberts says:

    Before anyone jumps to conclusions, can we find out exactly what was said. It sounds like the conductor didn’t like the singer’s performance and was probably very vocal about it to her and then had the company replace her.

    “Subject to sexual induendo” is very vague and not sexual harassment. Did the conductor ask the entire cast to sing a certain way and use profanity or did he single her out and say inappropriate things?

    I have heard the worst things come out of people’s mouths in the workplace, including inappropriate sexual induendos said by women. Does that mean that anyone who gets fired or let go from a company at a later time has the right to bring one of the leaders to a social media trial, even if it is unrelated?

    Again, I don’t know what was said and she very well may have been mistreated but if we are going to quickly jump to a conclusion and start posting that he is guilty, we should also consider the exact opposite and that we have a disgruntled employee who is angry.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Does anyone with first hand knowledge of this situation know that she wasn’t fired for artistic reasons?

  • Been There says:

    I find it interesting that 100% of the comments critical or skeptical of the fired soprano appear to be written by males. Women find all of this entirely plausible, and I suspect that many out there have corroborating stories to tell. Abusive behavior by men in positions of power or authority in this business is ubiquitous. (I also suspect that official press reports from the Portland incident were toned down as part of a severance deal. That’s how these situations are usually handled – put out a whitewashed cause for termination in exchange for no further publicity initiated on either side)

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Sigh…we all (at least if we are reasonable) find it plausible. But most of us don’t know what to make of a one-off accusation where we have only heard one side of the story. This does not mean we think she is “making things up”, but most of us want to be hasty about reaching conclusions.

  • David says:

    Men have been subjected to demonizing of all men, based on horror stories about a subset of men, for decades now, and it continues to grow stronger. It is a very acceptable form of prejudice in today’s world, whereas all other perceived forms of prejudice against people who are not men is vocally protested.

    The fact that mostly women were ready to accept one side of the story without hearing ANYTHING from the opposing side should be of equal concern. Most of the men protesting were asking for more details before forming an opinion.

    Your own comment “Abusive behavior by men in positions of power or authority in this business is ubiquitous” could be construed as evidence of bias. The term ubiquitous, specifically. If I had said “Sexually predatory behavior by blacks in this business is ubiquitous”, you could be sure that I would face a backlash.

    So, when I heard corroborating comments from another woman with some experience with this man, I was willing to accept it. However, the original article was very sparse in its details.

    I also discern lopsided reporting on this web site. Things like “Piano competition is down to last woman” makes me think that there is a very real agenda and unexamined bias in reporting here.

    So, even though you don’t see it, men in general are subjected to prejudicial comments and attitudes everyday based on the actions of a few. Most of the men on here were asking for a fuller picture before forming an opinion. Most women were not.

    Again, this is called unexamined bias.

    • Rich Patina says:

      Well said! Thank you.

    • Jeremy says:

      Your obnoxious comments and blatant bias against the soprano in question have lowered the level of the discourse. Claiming that the majority of abusers in work environments are men or that abuse (sexual and otherwise) is pervasive in the field of classical music is not biased. It is a fact that has been corroborated not only by the numerous exposés that have appeared in the Washington Post and other papers, but by testimonials from countless women and men in the profession. Your comparison to this reality with racist claims about black people were made in bad faith and are a complete credibility drain. I’m also not sure why you think your opinion is the end all be all, nor why you seem convinced that you are the custodian of rationality and journalistic integrity. If you’re not just a troll, which it seems you are, then sit down, shut-up and listen more instead of trying to dominate the discourse with a bunch of obnoxious rhetoric.

  • David says:

    Also, the use of the term “cri de coeur” in the original article smacks of a willingness to take a side before a fuller picture emerged. Seems to be a fairly loaded term.

  • David says:

    Or, “cri de coeur about her maltreatment” shows an editor who has made up their mind with only one side of the story. Lots of bias to go around. This is not reporting. It’s merely a blog with low journalistic standards and ethics.

    The story might turn out to be completely factual, but, with little to go on at the moment, less loaded terms were in order.

  • David says:

    It’s possible MDLO has not responded to requests from because they don’t consider it a valid reporting agency.

    This story is, so far, not being covered by any other reporting agency. That may or may not be a matter of concern. Perhaps other agencies are doing their homework first before reporting anything.

    • Zack Roberts says:

      That is a very good point. This is something that Anne Midget would be all over so I am curious why she has not jumped on this, even though she is being tagged on Facebook about it on the singers wall.

      I also find it odd that none of the other cast members are saying anything about it either, maybe after the performance is over someone will say something about what exactly happened.

      I really wish people would read the facts that she wrote and that She was not sexually harassed. We’ve now come to the point where men’s careers can be paved as sexual predators for being rude to employees or firing them for any number of reasons, and that is very scary.

  • Anonymous says:

    It should be noted that in her statement above she says that: “With no warning or prior discussion I was “released” for NO stated cause, in an email, on Sunday evening, the company day off!”

    She mentions sexual innuendo, but does not mention sexual harassment. This is likely why Ms. Midgette hasn’t taken up the cause. She is preoccupied with sexual harassment stories, particularly of or about famous people in the business. Her previous article was eye opening to be sure; however, it left out several other rampant offenders who may have had more accusers. Why? Seems like it was because they weren’t household names. And no follow up article about same sex sexual harassment which is also rampant in the music world.

    Ms Blancke-Biggs was a victim of blatant wrongful termination, plain and simple. The company issued a vague and lame statement to operawire that more or less said nothing.
    Their comment:
    “While we cannot discuss details of our decision to part ways with Ms. Blancke-Biggs out of respect for her privacy, we can assure you that we have looked into the situation and we know that our opera company has acted appropriately and professionally at all times.”
    Is interesting, as she still seems to maintain that she was NEVER given a reason for dismissal, at least no comment seems to have surfaced about a reason.

    From the outside in, as is everyone else on this thread, it looks like they released her for simply standing up for herself with a difficult conductor. That should not be reason to fire anyone. If there is an issue, management should be available and willing to discuss the issue and try to work it out. Instead, the company decided to dismiss the soprano with no discussion or desire to work through the situation.

    They should have talked to Ms. Blancke-Biggs and if a solution wasn’t possible they should have bought her out of her contract and parted ways. Instead they sent some sort of dismissal with no reason and refused to respond to emails or calls. Shamefully and unprofessional behavior in any industry. Quite disrespectful of an artist of any caliber, particularly so of one with an illustrious career like Ms. Blancke-Biggs.

  • Been There says:

    Hear, hear, Anonymous. Is Maryland Lyric Opera is an AGMA signatory?
    I suspect not, given such unprofessional treatment of a starring artist. And if not, this incident stands as a perfect example of why artists – even young, hungry ones – should not work with non-AGMA-affiliated companies. But if MLO is an AGMA company, then, shame on them! And Ms. Blancke-Biggs has a great case for AGMA’s legal team.

  • John Nolte says:

    Sounds like someone is posting “anonymous”ly who is involved and in the center of it all. This thread is silly.
    Biggs is a temperamental artist. It’s her greatest attribute and her fatal flaw. I’ve seen her lock horns with directors and conductors before. Solemno is known to be difficult, critical and temperamental, as well. It’s a shame that neither of them could just say “I’m sorry” or “let’s try again” or compromise or reach some sort of mutual agreement for whatever happened.
    Temperamental artists are a thing of the past and it’s a shame but this is a good reason to show why they’re not hired anymore and the days of Schicoff and Callas are over. We’re now stuck with the likes of DiDonato who is as flaccid as Flemming. We have America’s sweetheart mezzo who can’t sing above an E Flat, has an inconsistent E and nothing functions above that. Forget about the F. A soprano with no top, an interesting voice that was never fully mastered, a musical talent and very easy to work with – this is what American Opera wants – easy. And so, there are always singers in the wings who are willing to go on and be easy and amiable and not make trouble.
    MeToo is getting out of hand and until someone comes forth and spills the beans – who really cares. It’s just another singer who was replaced. Happens all the time. This is news?

  • anonymous says:

    This organization has continuously run themselves into the ground. They spend exorbitant amounts of money, on unsuccessful programs. They have an audience base of comp tickets, and no real substance to follow.

    While it would be nice to have another Opera company in the area with respect and money, this one only has the latter. Practically every bridge has been burned, since their inaugural season.

    Many people have been dragged through the mud, and then suddenly dismissed without reason, communication or follow-up. In fact, the silence from their founder has been a trend.

    Shame on him and the company for claiming to be empathetic humans, while being grossly un-empathetic towards their musicians.

    But, lets recall their motto: “It’s all about the singer.”

    Is it though? Really?

    Or is it about the crude, incapable conductors they hire, whom have all had issues on the podium. Not only in commanding the performances, but coupled with lewd comments, sexual innuendos and curse worse. That is who this company sides with.

  • John Nolte says:

    Let’s stick to the problem at hand – sexual harassment – and deal with it. It seems as though I was right in saying that certain “Anonymous” contributors are connected to the company and perhaps have an ax to grind. Papering a house and spending money on unsuccessful programs describes the MET and every other company in America. These are not problems exclusively of this curious company in Maryland. Whether or not this company is filled with bad people is not really the issue – yet.

    When dealing with an opera like “Fanciulla del West” whose lead characters are named “DICK”, “JOHNSON” (so nice, he named him twice) and MINNIE…you want to ban sexual innuendo and lewd comments from the rehearsal process? This entire opera is filled with sexual innuendos. Puccini was the master of sexual innuendos and full-on sexual situations. How does a conductor, soprano and tenor rehearse and perform the finale of Act 1 of Madama Butterfly without understanding or speaking about the real meaning of “Ah Vien”?!!! The music is one big sexual climax. It poetically word-paints the act and lays it all out there. You can’t deny what it means and audiences should feel it, too. Fanciulla, a lesser-known opera, has all of that and more in every act. Puccini operas throb with sex in the music. We don’t need to see it on stage but it has to be played and sung with passion, heat and sex. So, rehearsals often get involved in it, as they should. If someone is insulted or hurt by that it has certainly gone too far (yet, I question whether or not the musician is in the right profession). Who knows what was said. People need to realize what we’re dealing with and when two adults cross the line a simple “I’m sorry” is in order. Move on. Do the show and don’t go whining to social media days before to put a cloud over everyone’s moment. If a singer and conductor won’t get along, respect each other and cooperate, replace the one who’s easiest to replace in suburban America after extensive rehearsals have already finished. This is why temperamental artists are a thing of the past. No one wants to deal with mess and finds the easiest solution; even if people, and the art form entirely, get hurt by it.

    We need artists like Biggs and Solemno. They should be bigg enough to apologize to each other, respect who has the baton and respect what the singer needs to be comfortable, create something bigger than themselves and do their job
    Opera deals with sex and passion and once you remove it, you’re killing it. I support artists with temperament. Trying to douse it and corporatize the music industry has left us with boring, safe, flaccid singers. Yuja Wang’s dress has absolutely no purpose or meaning at her piano, but Dick and Johnson sure have a place in Fanciulla.

  • Anon says:

    I have worked with this company on a few productions and I believe this singer 100%. There are chronic issues with performer and staff abuse, to the point where I’ve seen performers breakdown and sob at the comments being made from the music director. Management has witnessed these things and over the course of my time with the company nothing has been done to actually address the issues.

  • Chuck says:

    The Elizabeth Biggs I knew was a highly intelligent, hard working professional, who got the job done. She also had a great deal of integrity, which leads me to believe her version of events. Opera was everything to her, and that was true from when I knew her as a young woman. It’s ridiculous to think she would do anything to compromise her career…