Tenor, 48, sues Glyndebourne for ageism

Tenor, 48, sues Glyndebourne for ageism


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2019

Neil Williams, a chorus tenor, is suing the countryhouse opera festival for aggravated damages, having been dismissed after 15 consecutive summers. He says he was ‘discarded like an old rag’.

He wants £89,600 for lost earnings and hurt feelings.

Glyndebourne says half of its chorus are over 40.

The case is being fought against a backdrop of much turbulence in the chorus, which has seen three directors come and go in as many years.

More detail here.



  • The View from America says:

    Sorry, but this suit doesn’t pass the snicker test.

    A singer’s abilities, like those of a professional sports player, decline with age. That’s a fact. For some the decline happens sooner than others, but it happens to everyone eventually. And because what we’re talking about is the quality of the “end product,” to accuse the organization of “ageism” because it no longer considers the singer’s quality up to the artistic standards of the ensemble, simply doesn’t wash.

    This isn’t the same situation as a company dismissing (or failing to hire) someone because it doesn’t want to pay a higher salary or shoulder the higher costs of employer-provided healthcare insurance.

    Mr. Williams should be grateful for his 15-year run at Glyndebourne and move on with his life.

    • Maria says:

      Oh yeah? 46 and a tenor? Something not right there, and none of us heard him so we can’t be the judge on his actual voice. A singer knows themselves if they are not singing well, and a smart singer would have regular lessons. And a chorus of any worth would have a mix of ages and so experience otherwise they just sound like an early music choir, and all look the same. I hope he gets justice and is able to get an independent panel to hear him.

    • Martai Smith says:

      Does this chorus singer think he’s in the civil service? Show biz doesn’t work like that!
      If he pursues his claim, surely the only option is an audition before a panel of independent experts to assess his current vocal prowess. If he fails – the expenses are his!

    • BrianB says:

      Don’t snicker too much. Lucine Amara, at 51, filed a similar lawsuit in 1976 against the Metropolitan Opera–and won!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      View from America writes: “dismissing someone because it doesn’t want to pay … the higher costs of employer-provided healthcare insurance”

      That issue only exists in America. In Britain (and elsewhere) healthcare is funded from general taxation; there is no “employer-provided healthcare insurance”. And we don’t have age-related salaries either.

      The only reason not to hire him is that either they didn’t like his singing; or they thought there was something wrong with his interactions with his colleagues.

    • VB says:

      This isn’t the same situation as a company dismissing (or failing to hire) someone because it doesn’t want to pay a higher salary or shoulder the higher costs of employer-provided healthcare insurance.

      Ok so how do you explain Glyndebourne’s decision last year to start using junior musicians, casting aside the more experienced musicians they have used for years? They can do that because they don’t employ the orchestra directly, however the attitude and cost savings reason for the decision certainly support what Mr Williams is claiming. Penny pinching Hopwood will be at the heart of it all for sure.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    This is a UK story so why are damages given in dollars ? Has SD gone American ?

    • Edgar says:

      No, SD has not gone American. Might it be that this UK story gives the damages in $$ in light of the coming UK-crash out of the EU and into the status of Preferred Economic Protectorate of the Trump AdministrAbomination? If that were come to pass, England would have to sing to American tunes…. Just guessing here…;-)

  • Nick Fange says:

    Incredible story…
    normally after 5 seasons, you become a permanent member of the chorus (without having to re-audition) which some are/have been for a long time. I’m sure the other chorus members show solidarity!
    I wonder if Glyndebourne ‘s barrister mentionned in the Daily Mail article (see below) is not a family member of ex finance director Sarah Hopwood, now general manager…
    Wishing Neil all the best and to apply in other opera companies to prove Glyndebourne wrong.

    • Una says:

      Scottish Opera auditioned every two years when I was in it and a full-time chorus. ROH was regularly reauditioned, particularly each time we got a new chorus master in the past. Glyndebourne is not a full-time chorus. They can use anything to get rid of you, and nothing whatsoever to do with your voice.

  • Professional Chorister says:

    A new chorusmaster may want a different sort of sound, and therefore make adjustments to the choral personnel. Not unusual. Case in point: The (much-improved) Tanglewood Festival Chorus.