Exclusive: We need to talk about opera stars and little boys

The international opera critic Larry L. Lash has been troubled by the lack of investigation into widespread child abuse by leading opera personalities. He has personal experience of this crime, as he relates below in this Slipped Disc exposé: 

 

Dredging up memories has not been a happy experience for me but, motivated by the #MeToo movement, I need to talk about male predators in the classical music world who attack little boys.

After my father’s suicide three days after my fifth birthday in 1962, my mother dove into a violent, abusive second marriage.  I did everything possible to stay away from home and walked every day after school to the main library in Reading, Pennsylvania.

I read every issue of Opera News since its inception and every book on music, theatre, and dance I could get my hands on.  My big treat was a long table fitted with turntables and headsets and shelves of classical music LPs. There began my lifelong obsession with opera.

My mother engaged the son of a distant friend to give me piano lessons, and act as a role model.  I was often handed off to my teacher for full weekends at his apartments in Philadelphia, where he taught at the Curtis Institute, and later in a Washington, D.C. suburb, where he was an organist at the National Cathedral.  I was eight or nine the first time at his place in Philly when we went swimming and then, at his suggestion, we took a “nap,” during which he raped me. I even remember the words exchanged when I asked what he was doing. The abuse continued for several years.  And there was the opera factor: he drove me to New York several times to attend Metropolitan Opera matinees. Attending Met performances became my raison d’être.

A New York City Opera leading tenor once performed selections from La bohème with a soprano at Reading’s Northeast Junior High weekly assembly.  During the Q&A it became apparent that my knowledge of opera was far and above that of any other student.  A teacher arranged for me to skip classes and sit with the tenor in empty schoolroom to talk opera. He invited me to attend my first La bohème at the Met on 6 March 1971, less than a month after my 14th birthday.  I arrived at his West 73rd Street flat mid-morning. He answered the door in a bathrobe and suggested that we take a “nap,” as it was still several hours before the 2:00 p.m. curtain.  He became the second man to transport me across state lines and rape me.

Now 81, he enjoyed a major international career which included 26 seasons with the Met in major roles.

I skipped school to extend my weekends in New York, paid for by saving my lunch money and doing whatever odd jobs I could pick up.  I was a stage door regular, and my face became known and friendships developed. I slept on the sofas and floors of sweet, generous people who, like me, were on the standing room ticket line every Saturday morning.  Singers began to recognize me and often offered me their company standing room tickets at the back of the Grand Tier. An usher once allowed me to sit in the unused Board of Directors’ box, but first forced me to fellate him in the anteroom.

Among the Met comprimarios who were kind to me, letting me sit in on rehearsals and giving me a tour of the building from top to bottom, was a bass who would sing over 500 performances with the company.  He once invited me to his Upper West Side apartment between shows at a Met Saturday double-header, and it was only a matter of minutes before his clothes were off and he was on me.

I missed more classes at Reading High than I attended but hung out with the young, “cool” couple at the school in the early 1970s.  I wasn’t required to take his history class, but she taught me Russian. Considered “eccentric,” they often hosted parties for precocious students at their home.  All it took was one ride home in Jim’s notorious “urine-yellow Mustang” for him to force me to fellate him. Under threat of death, he would pick me up when his wife was teaching night school, drive somewhere deep into the forest, and force himself on me for two years.  And the next day I would sit in Russian class, wondering if his wife had any inkling. Opera was again a factor: on several occasions the three of us drove to the Met for two Saturday performances… in the car in which he regularly molested me.

At 15 I was taken in by a gay couple who I met at the opera.  From Bill and Lloyd, who I regard as my true parents, I learned that being gay could be a legitimate, safe, and happy lifestyle.  They gave me a home, fed me well, gave me household chores, and enabled me to enrol at CUNY and American Ballet Theater School. At 17 I was able to take a studio apartment in their building with money which came to me from my father’s veterans’ benefits.

And I finally understood the disgust and perversity of the abuse I endured since that first post-swim “nap” with my piano teacher.

Larry L. Lash danced with the Metropolitan Opera, produced and annotated dozens of albums for PolyGram Records over 12 years, was artistic director of New Dances for the 21st Century, and turned to a fulltime career in arts journalism in 2001.  A resident of Vienna, he has written for The Financial Times, Bloomberg, Variety, Opera News, Ballet Review, Musical America, and Andante.

 

If you’ve had similar experiences as a child or adolescent, please let us know. The abuse of children remains an elephant in the room for the opera industry.

 

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  • It happens in other schools too. Remember the Dennis Hastert case? It happened in my school too. A former high school teacher of mine once told me that it was acceptable for teachers to help students get in touch with their sexuality and admitted that he knew about the school principal having an affair with a student many years earlier. I reported it to the police but they told me the statute of limitations had expired.

  • This has only the most tenuous of connections with Classical Music. What is this obsession with sex which is creeping into Slipped Disc ?

    • “This has only the most tenuous of connections with Religion. What is this obsession with sex which is creeping into the National Catholic Reporter?”

    • The rise and rise of grievance politics; starting in the arts and working its way through our whole societies. The Left offers solace to the aggrieved, promising everything and anything – while the Right does not. That explains a great deal about where we are right now. (And I didn’t make that up; it comes from Sir Roger Scruton.)

      • Sweet Sue, really, you need to spend more time watching Jordan Peterson videos and reading Jordan Peterson books, and less time commenting here. You’re depriving yourself of true enlightenment.

      • You really don’t have a clue of anything, do you? Do you really think that the story of a child raped at eight or nine years of age is a matter of political or philosophical debate? Sir Roger Scruton would be the first to call you a cretin for making such a stupid, raving and out of place comment.

        • As long as we [read: Sue] are casting aspersions, a trademark of the Right is the ignoring of any human aspect to any human problem.

          Conservatives reliably dismiss or minimize the effects of depression, rape, mental illness of any kind, etc. until something happens to a close friend or family member. Only then does it become real for them.

          (Not saying all conservatives, just saying.)

  • If this were a movie script, it would be rejected as too over-dramatic … too histrionic … too unbelievable.

    But I’d believe anything now.

  • It’s not only men. There’s a much lauded and decorated female ballet teacher in Australia who simply couldn’t keep her hands off her promising male students. Several of the young men did not fulfil their potential due to PTSD they suffered from and abandoned their careers.

    • Not forgetting the Jewish principal of an all-girls school in Australia who escaped to Israel trying to avoid 72 abuse charges. She’s currently the subject of extradition pressure.

      But avert your eyes; men are the only abusers. It’s that white, privileged patriarchy.

    • To be clear, for many reasons (not least that he’s been dead for 17 years) the Boheme tenor with the West 73rd Street apartment could not have been Sandor Konya

    • He accuses the tenor who attended the performance with him, not the the tenor who was singing that day.
      Well… the text provides many clues about who could be the accused singer…

    • I don’t think Sandor Konya ever sang at NYCO. He went from Europe directly to his Met debut in 1961 and died at age 78 almost 20 yrs. ago. I heard his Butterfly in Berlin with Pilar Lorengar in 1961 just before he came here.

    • Konya is long deceased; he wouldn’t be described as now 81. He also wasn’t at the Met for 26 years (only 13). I inferred that the tenor was not performing that day.

      I can only think of one tenor who started at NYCO, was at the Met exactly 26 years, and is 81 today. But I don’t want to add a name to this.

    • and that’s where the story becomes unbelievable as 1. Konya was a decent married man and never a NY City opera tenor 2. He sadly passed away and the so called predator mentioned above is still alive.Faulty memoir?

    • Indeed, the Rodolfo was Sándor Kónya, but the big attraction was Dorothy Kirsten: it was her 25th anniversary celebration with the company. And for clarity’s sake, Mr Kónya was not the tenor who molested me.

      • Larry, I’m really saddened to hear what you endured, from your home situation, to be taken advantage of by so many disgusting human beings who could only see sexual gratification in you, rather than that you were a precocious wonderful little boy who they had the opportunity to mold into a fantastic man. Thank you for having the courage to share this horrible story. I hope you have been able to move forward in life without having these horrors distort your sense of your own value as a person, your ability to love and be loved, and to be the best of yourself. I’m sorry for this terrible journey you’ve had to take. No one deserves this.

    • You were not sufficiently careful in reading the above article, and as a result seem to be making false accusations against an innocent person. The article does NOT say that the Tenor in question was singing in the performance on the date of 6 March 1971 – only that he invited the author along to attend. In fact Sandor Konya’s biographical details do NOT match those attributed to the tenor mentioned in the above article. Mr. Konya passed away at 78, in 2002, and sang at the Met for 14 years. The tenor in question is stated to be still alive at 81 as of this writing, and sang at the Met for 26 years.

      • and now to miss over-active-I am clever and I know-it- Lin Jerome Hines has been ‘wrongly’ outed as a child abuser, denouncers like that were useful in WWII, ditto for the guy who wrongly put the innocent great tenor Sandor Konya in the discussion. Likewise for Mr Lash if you say “a” you also must say “b”, as now YOU and YOU alone are responsible for shaming the names of both Konya and Hines

  • Thank you for sharing this, Mr.Lash. Tremendous courage is required to expose the painful parts of one’s past, even after decades of processing. As a survivor of abuse, I found your story familiar and powerful.

    I’m so glad you had the support of caring people like Bill and Lloyd to help get you on track. Wishing you continued success in your life.

  • The victims should stop trying to hide the identities of the perpetrators. Name the persons who abused you. This goes for both women and men. No purpose can be had to continue the silence.

  • The names of the perpetrators have been withheld from this article for various reasons. Please do not speculate about possible malcreants. All of the rumoured names above are false.

  • This is a horrifying story, but Norman, you need a clear policy. It is extremely easy to identify the tenor being accused. In effect, you have identified him. Shouldn’t you decide one way or another – either state the accusation openly or redact identifying details? It seems Mr. Lash is ambivalent here – he wants people to know who, but he doesn’t quite want to put the name in plain letters.

    • Precisely. The story reads as completely credible to me, but the “I can’t say, but I’ll give you these hints that make it obvious” delivery undermines the credibility, so that the piece turns into a typical SD scandal piece, rather than carrying the gravity that it would otherwise deserve.

      • If these criminal accusations can’t be proven in a court of law, then the naming of names would clearly be slanderous.

  • What a shame!

    Yeah, the “me too” stuff may have gone too far sometimes and lead to the persecution or slandering of innocent people occasionally.

    However, there are very legitimate cases where a kid who seems gay or who will not fight back or will be afraid to say anything because he/she cannot afford to say no to important career mentors or teachers, is abused, especially in yesteryear when gay sex between adults was more difficult and might lead to negative consequences, such as being beaten up or blackmailed.

    Even today, sex with a kid might be easier than finding an adult if the kid is in a dependent or fearful relationship with the abuser. Sex abusers of children or young people seem to have a nose for sniffing out those victims who would be particularly vulnerable or dependent, emotionally and/or professionally. It appears, for example, that at least some of Levine’s alleged victims fit into this category.

    I truly hope that this “me too” concern will remain in public consciousness to the extent that many people who might lean to this sort of thing will become just too afraid to do it in the future for fear of being found out, just the way the fear of being accused of child abuse is making people more careful about the corporal punishment of kids.

    I fear, however, that the “me too” movement might just be a passing fad and that unfortunately, in a year or two, it may be back to business as usual with regard to sex abuse in the music world.

    This is why that offenders need to be outed, even if they are elderly and the legal statutes of limitations may have long passed, or even deceased; it will serve as an important warning to others that “you can run but you can’t hide”.

    May Mr. Lash find healing and now be involved in healthy relationships.

  • I knew Larry briefly before he left NYC for Vienna. I’m glad to see how he has flourished in the succeeding years and wish him all the best.

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