Just in: Opera stars blast Belgium PM for cancelling Carmen

Just in: Opera stars blast Belgium PM for cancelling Carmen


norman lebrecht

January 19, 2022

We have just received a letter sent to the Belgian prime minister by Michael Fabiano, Elsa Dreisig and other opera headliners about the Government’s decision to cancel Carmen at La Monnaie.

It might be the start of a fightback.


Dear Mr. Prime Minister De Croo

Dear Deputy Prime Minister Vandenbroucke

My name is Michael Fabiano.  I am an international operatic singer.  I also run a national organization in the United States that works directly with thousands of teachers, students, artists, and school administrators to provide in-person subsidized music lessons.

Until four days ago, I was performing Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at your national theater, La Monnaie. I had the distinct privilege of standing on stage with over a dozen remarkable artists and vocalist colleagues who were all thrilled to be performing this treasured opera here in Brussels.

General Director Peter de Caluwe informed the entire company that he was shuttering the theater and our production due to technical difficulties associated with the ongoing international crisis. This was clearly a decision he did not want to take and we all deeply sympathize with him for the difficult position put on his shoulders by the Belgian government.

I am writing to you, with the full support of my stage colleagues, because this is an unnecessary, disastrous decision and the result of the Belgian government’s unequal and unbalanced position on health and safety. Your citizens as well as visiting artists and workers are being irreparably harmed and this must change immediately.

Here are some of the ways that is occurring:

1)The risk of people not having access to music in their lives is enough to impair mental health and personal discipline.  I have experienced this firsthand in my organization in the United States, which is why we have gone above and beyond to ensure both children and adults have access to in-person music instruction even if that navigation has proved difficult.  Significant studies have shown that the risk of people not having music in their lives is grave enough to impair mental health and personal discipline. All of your citizens should have the opportunity to attend important cultural performances that they have looked forward to for many months during the pandemic.

2)Contracted artists  like our cast of Carmen, are being subjected to enormous pay cuts and career suspensions in a period where we have lost huge sums of employment and career opportunities.  Younger artists here performing with me have lost a critical international debut, that could be a make or break career moment, and are faced with insurmountable debt because they will not receive the paycheck they were anticipating.  Unlike workers in other sectors, for artists like us, it’s all or nothing.  If our performances are cancelled, we receive no pay for our rehearsals, countless hours of practice and preparation, and housing and travel expenses of which we receive no stipend or compensation. Fixed administrative and monthly workers inside the theater and in other cultural sectors meanwhile do not face that similar reduction in salary and emotional difficulty of the artists who are ultimately on the firing line in front of the public. To be sure, all culture workers should be compensated fairly and well. Arts and culture is after all a necessary social good.

3)Policies inconsistent with science constantly move the goal posts for artists with no end in sight.  Arts workers are largely vaccinated.  We have to be because it is a matter of our livelihood.  We know that the vast majority of citizens hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated and we know with scientific certainty that vaccination mitigates the effects of the virus. Individuals who have continually followed governmental guidance, adhered to local and national law, and practice safety and mitigation measures should not be subject to oppressive and career hindering safety rules that are now demonstrably not needed for vaccinated individuals. Draconian policies like isolating full populations of orchestra or chorus members if in contact with a Covid positive person, even though they have complied with all vaccination requirements or maintaining a ten day quarantine for Covid positive individuals, are serially behind the international curve and that outdated information was the one of two principal arguments to close our theater. It is my understanding now that the federal government has eliminated the isolation mandate if a vaccinated individual was in contact with a Covid positive person. It is a fine but insufficient step. As we see in other EU nations and the United States, quarantine has been reduced to 5 or 7 days for individuals who test positive. To be sure, this simple change would ameliorate much of the difficulty facing our artistic administration.

4)Music and theater are the most democratic institutions in the world because culture allows for the free and open debate of all citizens without restrictions and it is essential for them to be protected.  At a time when the world needs more connection, not less, it is a fundamental obligation of the state to make art and culture work for the good of all. Culture builds bonds between unlikely allies; culture that gives us the will to hope for a better future for our kids. Culture ensures that society know where we came from and where we’ll be going. Without it, society is lost.

Gyms, saunas, and bars are open with limited restrictions on movement but a theater of vaccinated, tested, and masked people has to be capped at 200 seats when there are nearly 1,200? Where is the equality or logic in this policy congruent to other business sectors? On whose advice, on what science is this based? Where is the advice from your cultural minister and why isn’t there a stronger advocacy for culture?  Cutting cultural work as a measure of safety throws away the keys to democracy and hinders your own mandate. Yours is a society that has been home to amazing art and culture for centuries. Belgium’s contributions and commitment to all cultural endeavors  command deep respect and admiration around the world.

Some of my colleagues and I have had the honor to sing in other international theaters at times during this crisis. All theaters have taken on the burden of hard work to keep their doors open even when there were outbreaks. Your administration has knee capped La Monnaie with capacity limits and serially poor guidance for those who are vaccinated and how they can be safe. It is a terrible shame and is disrespectful to the arts and arts workers for all they contribute to the social good. To force a leader such as Peter de Caluwe into this position is unjustified for the reasons stated above.

Belgium can be a hero to us all. You can lead us into glory. Create a new policy that protects workers and concurrently keeps the doors open without forcing unnecessary debt on the theater. Promote new, young, and terrific artists that are to be featured in our production of Carmen and deserve their moment to shine after such a terrible two years. If Madrid, Paris, and London can maintain open and full houses to the public during this crisis, certainly Brussels can too.

Please be our hero now. We need your resolute leadership more than ever. Overturn this unnecessary shuttering of La Monnaie and be our champion.

I remain ready and willing to speak for the arts, culture, and my colleagues with you or your administration and stand in solidarity with my arts worker colleagues.

Thank you on behalf of my colleagues who join with me in making this appeal to you, today, Monday, January 17th.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Fabiano

Stéphanie d’Oustrac

Elsa Dreisig

Anne-Catherine Gillet

Jean-Sébastien Bou

Jean-Fernand Setti

Louise Foor

Claire Péron

Guillaume Andrieux

Enguerrand de Hys

Pierre Grammont



  • Bonetti Micaela says:

    Well written, Monsieur Fabiano!

  • Le Grammarian says:

    Would a Belgian PM understand the term “knee-capped?”

  • guest says:

    I can’t take this seriously. People do “have access to music in their lives” regardless whether La Monnaie shuts down temporarily or not, there’s plenty of music online. It is possible Mr. Fabiano doesn’t consider recorded music as true music, but if he does so he is pretty much alone in this, and should abstain from recording anything himself. I agree different safety policies for different venues do not make sense always, but Mr. Fabiano’s demagogy doesn’t do him any credit. “It is a terrible shame and is disrespectful to the arts.” Huh? How is this disrespectful to the arts? Does he confuse this with RT? We don’t lose “culture” just because a Carmen performance was cancelled. Freelance singers lose their fees, but the rest of the world doesn’t lose “culture.” I sympathize with the singers who have to take pay cuts, but I don’t sympathize with demagogy.

    • CRogers says:

      Live performance is much more important than recordings, which are worth having but are a poor second best compared to live performance where you experience a fully dimentional performance.

      • guest says:

        I was quoting from the letter. The complete quote for your edification: “The risk of people not having access to music in their lives is enough to impair mental health and personal discipline.” I don’t know what are you quoting. I didn’t compare live performance with recordings, I just said that Mr. Fabiano’s claim that people are at risk of not having access to music in their lives is ridiculous demagogy.

        “Please be our hero”? He must have watched too many Hollywood B-movies or played too many video games. This is the language and mentality of a 13 years old.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    He must have consumed and entire bottle of whine while writing this journal entry.

  • Amelia says:

    Michael Fabiano is a natural leader and I applaud this letter.

    • Cantantelirico says:

      Please tell me what American Singer has ever written a direct letter to the Prime Minster of any country. This whine laden rant will serve only to make American Singers appear ill mannered and spoiled. If there were ten minutes before curtain, which is not unusual throughout Europe, how would Mr. Fabiano behave. Natural Leader. All he has done is submit his resignation letter from singing in Europe for the foreseeable future.

  • Manny_Balestrero says:

    This was never about a virus, Fabiano has my full support. Music lifts the human spirit, the Great Reset can’t afford that in the middle of their psy-op. Lockdowns didn’t work the first time, they won’t work now. I left Marxist New York a year ago this week. Best decision of my life. New York remains “king of the hill”, like Sinatra used to sing, in covid deaths, along with CA and NJ, Bolshevik blue states, despite their communist restrictions. The majority of hospitalizations are among the vaccinated now. Because that’s what these injections we’re **intended** to cause, more disease. And the idiots are lining up for more. The same imbeciles who believed “two weeks to flatten the curve” are eager to be injected with untested, unapproved boosters. The last thing governments and pharmaceutical companies are interested in, people, and please put this through your thick skulls once and for all, is YOUR GOOD HEALTH. It’s the exact opposite. https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news/niagara-region/2022/01/13/covid-explainer-why-are-there-more-vaccinated-people-in-hospital-than-unvaccinated.html

    • Westfan says:

      That is not because of the vaccines themselves. It is because now the vast majority in many areas are vaccinated. There is no vaccine that is 100% effective in preventing the illness it is meant to protect. But the unvaccinated continue to be sicker and to die at much higher rates than those vaxxed and boosted. So your point is false. Did you read the article? And yes, I trust the government and pharmaceuticals to be interested in my well being. Big pharma is also interested in making a buck, or many bucks. But that is another issue.

      • Manny_Balestrero says:

        Westfan that’s not another issue. You contradict yourself. You admit big pharma’s interested in making a buck and everyone knows that there’s no profit in making people healthy. So be smart enough to connect the dots please. Your entire premise is wrong, these injections are not vaccines, they do not meet the definition of vaccines. They’re gene therapy. For openers real vaccines take at least 5 to 10 years to develop, not 2 months, so your entire reply is irrelevant. The government and big pharma are counting on naive people like you who blindly trust them with your health and your life. Be aware, however, that the CDC itself admits 21,000 people directly died from the “vaccine” in the US as of 12/32/2021 and only 1 to 10% gets reported. The CDC considers people vaccinated only after 14 days after the injection, which is absurd, so we know the number of deaths is much higher. Good luck playing Russian roulette with your life.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Much of this letter was spot on, but certain passages undermined the point he was trying to make. He’d have done better to spend more time accentuating the fact that closing the theatre at this moment has no basis in current covid reality as evidenced by measures applied in other countries.

    Acknowledging that the EU is based in Brussels, alluding to the possible necessity to be perceived as more Catholic than the Pope might have helped. To go all luvvy about art in our lives does not strengthen the argument. The weakness of the current variant indicates that this bug is now basically toast, a fact recognised by some of the most deranged covid fetishists (and there are many) who have reluctantly started to admit they may be safe emerging from behind their sofas.

    A strong statement in favour of the necessity to resume normal life while keeping the perpetually nocturnally moist happy with a nod towards hand sanitiser might have more effect. The longer we plead, the longer the professionally terrified will keep the thumbscrews tight.

  • Rafael Figueroa says:

    Mr. Fabiano seems to have forgotten that he’s a just a guest worker in Belgium and must abide by the laws and regulations set forth by the authorities of that country, not question them. The letter if anything, sounds conceded, arrogant and corny. singers are concerned about losing their source of income, that’s understandable, but aren’t we all in the same position?? Mr Fabiano please spare us the tiresome and annoying discourse ‘that a society without music and art becomes ignorant…’ blah blah blah ….

    • Manny_Balestrero says:

      Guest worker or not, his noble efforts paid off. Theaters in Belgium will now reopen at 70% capacity. Bravo, Fabiano!

  • Fernando Espineira says:

    Bravi, these singers!!!!!

  • IntBaritone says:

    No one ever accused Fabiano of having a small ego

    • Manny_Balestrero says:

      IntBaritone this isn’t about Fabiano, don’t shoot the messenger. This is about draconian, useless restrictions. Cancelling performances is totally unnecessary. Since everyone can still become infected, vaccinated or not, what do you propose, close public events forever? From Fauci’s e-mails we learned: 1- There’s no such thing as asymptomatic spread; 2- Face masks do not work; 3- Lockdowns are unnecessary; 4- Covid death numbers were cooked to increase fear and isolation; 5- The main purpose of the psy-op was to manipulate citizens into taking untested, experimental toxins disguised as “vaccine”.

  • Save the MET says:

    For those who have not looked, covid cases in Belgium are on the rise in a very serious way. In the last two days over 130,000 new cases, the highest in months. Does Fabiano really think the Prime Minister is going to care about an opera production at the Monnaie? By the way, unmasked singing is a major spreader of the virus. His letter is frankly absurd and picayune if you look at the Belgium situation objectively. I feel sorry for the musicians, singers and other music professionals whose careers have been destroyed by the pandemic. I also feel sorry for the cruise ship crews, restaurant owners and workers and other business people who operate before the public who have also been adversely affected due to the virus. The hospitals of the world are filling up again and in-person opera performance right now does not register a blip on the to-do totem pole for world leaders. By the way, I’m saying this as a music professional and someone who loves opera.