Breaking: Hamburg pays up for firing pregnant soprano

Breaking: Hamburg pays up for firing pregnant soprano


norman lebrecht

May 16, 2019

A year ago, the Hamburg State Opera fired the French soprano Julie Fuchs on discovering that she was four months pregnant.

It claimed that her condition had compromised the ‘artistic integrity’ of its Magic Flute production.

Julie got a lawyer and has just announced the outcome:

‘Hamburg State Opera and I have reached an agreement regarding the conditions of the termination of my guest contract for the role of Pamina in ‘Die Zauberflöte’ in May 2018. One year on, I am happy to announce that following proceedings at the Stage Arbitration Court in Hamburg, I have received my full agreed fee as compensation for the short-term cancellation of my employment in the production. As some of you may remember, apart from my initial announcement, I have gone to great lengths not to talk about this matter publicly. Now that the agreement has been reached, I’m proud to have stood up for what is right, and I hope this incident and the ruling will help set a good example for other pregnant women and other opera houses.

‘Thank you for your support during this time.’



  • Karl says:

    Opera houses will have to write pregnancy clauses into contracts. If that’s legal. They could also change the story lines. NYC Opera did that years ago in “Lucia di Lammermoor” to account for the pregnancy of the soprano in the title role. In their production Lucia was pregnant with the illegitimate child of the man she was having an affair with.

    • Emil says:

      I am quite sure ‘pregnancy clauses’ are, in fact, blatantly illegal anywhere. To fire a woman because of her pregnancy is just about the most basic form of gender discrimination there is.

      • Kenneth says:

        It’s not gender ‘discrimination’ as much as a biological reality for women, Emil. It’s nothing new that it’s more difficult to be a women in the professional sphere for this very reason. If you’re pregnant, that comes with caveats. And, if she knew about the pregnancy when contracted and omitted that fact, that is misleading.

        What’s the opera to do, cast a pregnant Pamina, and accommodate everything that entails? Or perhaps give her time off, and cast any number of other qualified applicants? While congratulations and support for Ms. Fuchs are all naturally in order, the opera is primarily in the business of ‘artistic integrity’ and a dramatis persona in opera is a visual role as much as a vocal one.

        Sorry, but pregnancy is a fundamental change to a person which warrants revisions to contracts, should the contracts contain physical specifications or expectations. I don’t blame the opera here for their response.

        • Emil says:

          Hi there,
          Being pregnant is not discriminatory – firing someone for being pregnant is.
          I am quite sure opera contracts for top soloists are negotiated more than 4 months in advance, so unless she’s psychic she couldn’t have disclosed it in advance (also, she shouldn’t: barring women from a job because of, as you say, “a biological reality” is the textbook definition of gender discrimination).
          Finally, on ‘artistic integrity’, I would point out that Angela Gheorghiu plays a Japanese Cio-Cio San, Placido Domingo has played a black Otello, and teenage Juliet is routinely played by sopranos three times her age. Ghosts and furies in the underworld are played by living chorus members in Orphée et Euridice, and I’ve even seen René Pape play a devil in Faust. So if all this is perfectly fine, but a pregnant woman is somehow a bridge too far, I have questions.
          Joyce DiDonato broke a leg on stage and they managed to restage a whole production to accommodate her. So don’t try insinuating that a perfectly healthy person (who, again, experiences something perfectly normal for a human woman) can’t be seen on stage.

          • Anne Marie says:

            I couldn’t have said it better myself!

          • sycorax says:

            Amen to that!
            In opera we have to “oversee” that Rigoletto thinks 50 kg Gilda in his sack are equal to 100 kg tenor (Pavarotti someone?). We have to believe that Count Almaviva can’t see the difference between his wife and her servant (and I remember Sir Tom Allen’s attempts to make believe that he’d mix up Dame Felicity Lott with a rather petite Susanna). But we can’t “oversee” that Pamina’s got a belly?

        • Yes Addison says:

          Kenneth, I doubt she knew she was pregnant when she was contracted. She was about four months along at the time the performances were to take place, and planning of seasons typically is done years in advance.

          But I also don’t think the issue was that they didn’t want a pregnant Pamina. Women have sung operatic roles much further along than four months. It was more about this particular production by Jette Steckel, which has aerial work. The options were restaging Pamina’s scenes or getting someone who could perform them as Frau Steckel staged them.

          I don’t think even after this decision, Hamburg’s adminsitration would say “Well, we’ve learned our lesson” and strap a pregnant soprano into a harness and swing her about, or that anyone wants that.

      • Karl says:

        It’s been done. Here the actress Priyanka Chopra complains about it.

        Also see here:
        ‘Actress-turned-producer Shilpa Shetty is in favour of inducting a “no-pregnancy” clause in the contract of actresses as a lot of money is riding on them.’

        Employers have rights too.

        • Emil says:

          You’ll excuse me for thinking that the rights of individuals trump those of corporations, especially when it comes to fundamental rights.

          • Karl says:

            While corporations are not people they are made up of people. Shilpa Shetty is a person and she puts a lot of work and money into a production. And there are occasions when a pregnancy can’t reasonable be written into a script. In Hollywood they often use CGI special effects to cover – as with Gal Godot in Wonder Women – but on stage that is not possible.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    Female singers are often at their best when pregnant. The opera house should consider themselves blessed in such circumstances!

  • It’s important not to confuse this situation with the EU’s maternity laws that protect women. Most countries stipulate that women be released from work for about the last 6 weeks or so of their pregnancies. This is a reasonable and important protection.

    Hamburg fired Ms. Fuchs only four months into her pregnancy, which is something very different. Even if this were necessary due to the future time frame of the production and the inherent dangers of its areal elements when she would be late in her pregnancy, they should have offered her as compensation other productions after her pregnancy with equally satisfying roles. I think that would have avoided the dispute.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    I find it a bit odd that many people are insisting that the opera house behaved reasonably when the courts have clearly stated that he opera house behaved badly.