René Pape: Sorry, gay people. I was drunk

René Pape: Sorry, gay people. I was drunk


norman lebrecht

July 06, 2022

The German bass has issued this late-night apology for an anti-Pride comment on the Metropolitan Opera site:

To my dear friends, colleagues, and followers: I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt I caused so many people by the comments I posted on Facebook. There is no excuse for it, and none of this matches what I feel in my heart. The disappointment I have in myself and what I said is something I will not move past anytime soon, if ever.
I was attempting to make a statement about what I feel are sometimes performative actions by opera houses, but instead I wrote poorly written comments that seemed filled with hate for a community which has loved and supported me for years, and which I have love and respect for in return.
I grew up in former East Germany. Hatred and division were fires stoked by a controlling government during this period. I grew up in the shadow of it, and my questioning of others’ actions and true motivations comes from a dark part of myself I am not proud of in the least.
This inexcusable lapse in judgement happened in a moment I am ashamed of, and after so many years of struggle and public speculation I need to be honest with you and with myself.
I am an alcoholic, and have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. I have fought on and off with a demon that brings out the worst in me. There is no excuse for any behaviour that comes from this. I have no lasting victory over this demon, only a series of won and lost battles.
I will spend the summer focusing on my health, not only for myself but so I can be better for everyone else going forward. My most sincere apologies to the LGBTQIA+ community and all of you.


  • Bloom says:

    Has any other major opera singer acknowledged his/her alcoholism so openly ? What about depression? I guess many opera stars struggled or are struggling with these issues , but very little goes beyond the blockade imposed by the PR professionals.

    • Günther Kraus says:

      Deborah Voigt.

      In her book she claims to have beaten the disease and be in recovery, however I think it is pretty well acknowledged that she has had several relapses since then including a DUI in California.

    • pjl says:

      Try to see the great Sky ARTS FILM ABOUT JOHN TRELEAVEN MADE BY HIS SON: IT IS A VERY MOVING DOCUMENT IN WHICH HE talks movingly about his addiction and how in order to earn money to support his family he did not spend enough time with them…it is very touching to see how his son deeply loves him and understands what he went through. His wife gave up her own career for him.

    • Nick2 says:

      The great Scottish bass baritone David Ward was an alcoholic, although at his peak in the 1960s and 70s it was not a disease anyone talked much about – certainly not in opera. I believe it was partly a result of his alcoholism that he and his wife Sue decided not to have children. Perhaps, too, another result was his early death aged 61.

      I read a fascinating book recently about Scottish Opera’s Golden Years in which he played a major part, especially as a flawed magisterial Wotan in the 1971 Ring cycle. Listening to the mid-1960s recording of the Monteux/LSO Berlioz’ Romeo et Juliette, Ward’s Friar Lawrence reminds me very much of those Ring appearances. According to the book, I believe only once did his alcoholism affect a performance.

      • Robert Levine says:

        Also a wonderful Messiah with Boult and the LSO.

      • Donna Pasquale says:

        It did for Alexander Gibson too I believe.

        • Nick2 says:

          Donna Pasquale’s comment about Sir Alexander Gibson is entirely and utterly wrong. Throughout his career, through bringing the Scottish National Orchestra to true international status and then to the founding and nurturing of Scottish Opera to the point where the Financial Times critic wrote “at its best Scottish Opera is unsurpssed by another other opera company in Europe”, Sir Alex was never remotely close to being an alcoholic.

          With the Board of Scottish Opera making two disastrous appointments to the post of General Administrator after the departure of Peter Hemmings to Sydney in 1977, the pressure on Sir Alex to be the publlic figurehead of the company increased – and he had never been comfortable in that position. He may have consumed more alcohol during those later years but I must repeat very firmly he was never close to being an alcoholic. I knew as I was a good friend.

          That he died early was principally the result of his long-time habit of smoking around 60 cigarettes a day. Donna Pasquale should not make such unwarranted accusations.

  • Genius Repairman says:

    I believe he is sincere.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I’ve made critical comments about Rene Pape during this ordeal, but all I can say now is that I recognize how difficult it must have been for him to own up to his own personal demons. I suspect this message is sincere, and I hope he gets professional help to deal with his alcoholism and depression. Two twin demons, unfortunately. No one is rooting more than I for this to be a turning point for him to make a better life for himself.

  • Charles J. Khovansky says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    You are either challenged when it comes to empathy or you somehow managed to reach this earth higher orbit and no longer have contact with reality.

    Alcoholism IS A DISEASE. And a very cruel one. It does not take much effort to learn and understand that.

    Your title is not a sort of poor attempt to gain readers / clicks. It is just poor.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Well said. The header is reprehensible, not one to be lightly dismissed as just another of NL’s compulsive efforts to get attention and ‘clicks’. One of these days he’ll go too far and find himself on the receiving end of legal papers. He has done it before, after all.

    • Anonymous as I should be says:

      Indeed. But it can be arrested, a day at a time, millions have done so, if they are willing to ask for help and accept it, which is always the big “if”……

  • Lynne says:

    There is a saying “You say drunk what you think sober”.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    He has apologised to “the LGBTQIA+ community”, not specifically to gay people, as the headline misleadingly suggests.

    It is just plain erroneous to treat “gay” and “LGBTQIA+” as synonymous, because of all the many and increasing other sorts of people included under the “LGBTQIA+” initialism.

  • Rob says:

    ‘Where words leave off, music begins’

  • William Evans says:

    Sadly, it appears that Mr Pape is currently drinking despite him stating that he is an alcoholic. While alcohol can very transiently help depressed people forget their psychiatric symptoms, it is also itself a depressant and so will actually worsen low mood. I do hope Mr Pape has the courage to spend time focusing on his health, as he has said, and I wish him well.

  • William Glazier says:

    Total Bullshit. Obviously written by his agent trying to save a career ($).. What a pathetic Liar…In Vino Veritas. Those are his true feelings. Own that you are a homophobic bigot you miserable liar.

    • Arnaud says:

      Gee, I guess you haven’t learned anything from Parsifal….

    • Simon Marcus says:

      “In vino veritas” seems to provide the basis for a definitive assessment of utterances, but in fact it’s a wobbly diagnostic. No one could possibly believe that everything blurted out in an inebriated state conveys the true sentiments of the blurter. An equally plausible case could be made for the opposite.

      If Pape’s incoherent rant is set alongside his poignant, self-disclosing, remorseful apology, can there be any doubt as to which has the greater claim to authenticity? In the former, we hear a man who has lost all control of logic and language; in the latter a person openly and humbly struggling with his catastrophic frailties.

      The psychological pattern l see illustrated here is “post vino veritas.”

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I am a gay man and don’t care one way or another what Pape thinks about me or the ever widening community that presumes to speak on my behalf. No, that’s not exactly true because the more letters, colours, and symbols there are on their flags the less those of us at the front of the list are likely to be cancelled and no platformed by those at the back.

    If organisations want to show solidarity with whomever they choose that is not my affair. Just as I don’t want others who might disagree with these associations from being hung out to dry for their opinion. I’m sure that there is a derogatory term for gay men and women who don’t buy into the ever bigger rainbow flag that now everyone seems to have to wrap themselves in but quite honestly that’s their issue not mine.

    Can a homosexual be homophobic even when they are not self oppressing? I’m sure that someone will tell me in no uncertain terms. But, I am what I am. And that’s all that matters to me. As to the flag waving paraders? Well, it fills an afternoon.

    Pape should not be pressured to apologise for his views. He will pay a price for saying what he has and in what way is that different from the price that Gay Men like me would have paid if we had been out and proud in the bad old days? Losing you livelihood for what you are or what you think is no always right. And yes I campaigned and marched for equality when it was political and when many organisations like the MET and the Companies that now nurture the pink or rainbow £ would cross to the other side of the road rather than be associated with us.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Cynicism is not hot. As another gay man, I’m sorry you have such a dark view of so many things. I am happy for others’ happiness, and whatever pathway gets them there, so long as it does not diminish mine or others’ lives, is a good thing.

      You sound like need a good hug, and I’m offering one up. 🙂 And maybe a good friend too.

  • tet says:

    Beautiful heartfelt apology.

    Written by his publicist. In perfectly idiomatic, and perfectly PC, English.

    In all his alcoholism state, has he ever once spewed hetero-phobic hate?

    Alcohol(ism) isn’t responsible for what you hides in your heart, alcohol(ism) just lowers your barriers to letting out in public what hides in your heart.

    • Arnaud says:

      I suspect not. Pape speaks fluent English and this sounds like pretty classic 12 step language to me.

      • Anonymous as I should be says:

        I don’t see any “Classic 12 Step language” here at all, and believe me I would know it if I saw it. What I do see is someone on “Step Zero” – knows he’s an alcoholic and that there’s something not good about that. Can he get to Step 1? Only he can do that….

  • Anonymous as I should be says:

    90 meetings in 90 days…………..just a suggestion……..

  • william osborne says:

    I think his apology is very good and that he and the opera world can and should move forward. His comments, however, about the old East Germany (DDR) seem to me to be a bit misleading. East Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1968, one year before West Germany. By the mid 50s, the old homophobic laws that had been inherited from Nazi Germany were for the most part no longer enforced in the DDR. By the mid 80s, the government had begun to engage, at least to some degree, with homosexual rights. It’s also notable that this was done with at least some assistance from protestant churches in the DDR. (Naturally, this history is debated from various perspectives.)

    I think it is therefore a bit confusing to say his homophobic statement had its roots in the DDR. In general, Germans are much more sexually tolerant than the English-speaking world with its Puritanical traditions.

    If there were a cultural source for Pape’s drunken foolishness, I think it would be more likely found in the political climate of the far-right AfD party which is very strong in Pape’s home region of Dresden. In 2017, Germany legalized same sex marriage. The AfD responded with a lawsuit to stop the law, and commented, “In deep sorrow, we say good-bye to the German family, whose constitutional protection was buried by the ‘representatives of the people’ at the German parliament.”

    In short, there’s no reason to look back to the DDR when a homophobic party like the AfD is currently so strong in the region where Pape was raised. I should also note that the classical music community in Dresden has taken a strong stance against the AfD.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      “his homophobic statement”

      Was it homophobic? Do we know that his animosity wasn’t directed at one of the other sorts of people associated with Pride, not at gay people?

      And if it was directed against ALL the sorts of people in the LGBTQIA+ initialism, then to say it was homophobic isn’t enough. It was lots-of–other-things-phobic, too. Why do you regard gay people as the whole of the population marching under that in itialism?

      • William Osborne says:

        True, his comment could apply to a wide spectrum of gender identities.

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          Though, of course, being gay isn’t a gender identity.

          • William Osborne says:

            Or one could say that all forms of sexuality are an identity.

          • Paul Brownsey says:

            One *could* say that, but (1) you didn’t merely say that being gay was an identity–you said it was a *gender* identity, which it isn’t; (2) the notion of an identity is pretty spurious anyway. A generation ago we could say everything we needed to say about ourselves without talking of ‘my identity’. I would say, “I’m gay,” and that made the matter perfectly clear but now, it appears, we have to regard that as one’s ‘identity’. I’m not clear what that adds, apart from pretentiousness and pomposity. Likewise (I live in Scotland), where once someone might have said that they tend to think of oneself first and foremost as Scottish, they now go on about having a Scottish ‘identity’. What would be lost of God suddenly banished the notion of ‘my identity’ from the language?

    • Steven Holloway says:

      He didn’t say that about his apparent homophobia. Rather, it is a general comment on the state of mind that many developed in the DDR owing to their knowledge that anyone might be an informer for the Stasi. He’s admitting to a state of mind plagued by suspicion and paranoia. And that is very likely worse under the influence of alcohol.

      • William Osborne says:

        Maybe, but the DDR ceased to exist 32 years ago while the AfD and its hatred is a current and central part of the social climate in the Dresden area, Pape’s home region. I think Pape’s publicity agents, possibly with the assistance of the German opera house where Pape most often performs, wrote his apology and threw in an anti-communist reference as a sop to the US arts establishment. Due to Germany’s history, there is hardly a more experienced country in the world at Wiedergutmachung with all of its calculated references and constructed alibis.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Kudos to whoever wrote the apology–probably a team effort by several PR professionals–but it is only a well-crafted statement, not a demonstrable change of behavior and attitude. I hope Mr. Pape is able to hold his demons in check, but that rests on his shoulders.

  • zeno north says:

    While I kind of doubt that Pape himself wrote this, credit to whoever did. As a gay man, I’m willing to believe there’s sincerity behind it. (I recognize of course, that not all will, and some will consider him “un-redeemable”. Time will tell.) I just hope he will seek the medical help he needs for dealing with his alcoholism.

  • Ernest says:

    It would be more convincing if Herr Pape gives his statement in person …

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      Maybe he could be dragged through the streets with a dunce’s cap on? His career is over. Wherever he appears he will be subject to some form of disruption. He and only he can bear the consequences of his moment of intoxicated madness, foolishness, hate – call it what you will. He will never convince those for whom he is now a dyed in the wool homophobe and really that should be the end of the matter for those of us who are not out for another moral crusade against someone they had never heard of until he was pointed out to them as a bastion of the phobic patriarchy.

  • Parsifan says:

    In vino veritas !

  • Gregory Kuperstein says:

    As a Russian saying goes “What a sober person thinks, a drunk one says”.

    • Cheerful soul says:

      Or In Vino Veritas … I shudder to imagine the things that would come out of my mouth if I decided to tie one on at my age …

  • PR professional says:

    I traverse several of the themes here as a gay recovering alcoholic musician, who happens to now work in PR.

    Firstly “in vino veritas” is a complete myth. When you are blind drunk, you will often find yourself acting in ways that are totally alien to the sober version of yourself, and alcohol can negatively affect your rationality and empathy in extreme ways. Similarly one’s ability to communicate ideas is severely hampered.

    When I first read Pape’s comment, my first thought was “I could have sworn his English was better than that”, having heard him speak in interviews many times previously. Understanding his condition now, it makes complete sense as to why it was garbled.

    If I were to find any criticism in this response, which I do think is excellent, I would have wanted further clarification of how he felt the Met was undertaking performative action, because this would help to understand what he was driving at. Rainbow-washing can be irritating to lgbtq+ people and heteronormative people alike, but much less so when it comes from a solid foundation of authenticity, which I feel the Met has demonstrates.

    As for who wrote the statement, there is no doubt in my mind that it has been passed through many hands. However, neither I nor I believe any of my colleagues in the music industry would write a statement on behalf of a client without it being a reflection of their actual feelings and created in consultation with them, to do so otherwise would be a breach of ethical and professional standards. I believe it to come from a place of truth.

    I have been a great admirer of Rene Pape for many years, and I know only too well how debilitating and life-shattering alcoholism can be. Admitting the problem to the world is an incredibly courageous thing for him to do, and I hope that those around him (including his management) are able to support his journey to sobriety.

  • Cynical Bystander says:


    I thought that was Chris Pincher’s line.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    A gracious and honest response to much piling on from people who parade sometimes hypocritical gestures but act cruelly in private. He was right to reject a required display of political correctness, when everyday actions of a personal nature show where one’s genuine sentiments lie. It took courage for him to write this apology and it should be accepted as genuine.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      “He was right to reject a required display of political correctness” ????????? Excuse me, Herr Pape invaded their space. He freely expressed his opinion–as is his right–but let’s be very clear, it was a political statement on his part, ironically loud and proud, inebriated or not.

  • Dwayne says:

    Rene Pape has proven to be a valued opera artist, admired by many, for his excellent portrayals on the stage! Speculation has been rampant for years, about alcoholism, amongst some performing artists! In order to give one’s best, all the time, in performances, one has to be able to concentrate fully on the task on hand! As a past performer, acting in the theatre, and, also, as a singer, of musicals and opera, in principal roles, I believe opera singing, is the biggest challenge of all! It’s a very complicated process, that is not well understood, by the public, in general, where one has to deal with character acting demands, the actual vocal technique, of singing, sometimes very complicated musical scores, and then remembering all that, plus watching the orchestra conductor, and keeping pace, with all the stage business! Not just anybody has the ability to do that! Just being blessed with a beautiful voice, with a big range, is not enough! Looking good on stage is also, important! So, keeping that in mind, some performers have come to rely on drinking alcoholic beverages, and/or drugs, to cope with the high pressure, of all the aforementioned requirements, of being a ‘star’ performer, in opera, on the stage. Other people have found other ways to cope with the high stress, of being an operatic artist, performing leading roles, at many venues. I am not giving anybody an excuse for using alcoholic beverages, rather, I’m just explaining the reality of being an opera singer. I once studied voice from a famous opera star, for a number of years, who coped with the pressures, of performing opera, by drinking alcoholic beverages, occasionally. What seems to stay in my mind, when I think of that person performing, is that they often said, as an opera leading performer, one is only as good as their last performance! So, in other words, an extremely high quality of vocal technique, preparation, and strong nerves, are needed, to consistently perform, at a high level! Rather than criticize an opera artist, for using alcoholic beverages, as a crutch, in order to perform, at a consistently high level, I prefer to show compassion and understanding!

  • Freewheeler says:

    I too hate gays. But it’s a genetic predisposition, so I don’t have to take responsibility for it.

  • R. Brite says:

    As one who has been close to many people struggling with alcoholism and/or depression, I take this statement as sincere and wish Mr Pape all the best in finding ways to keep his demons at bay.

    I am not that bothered, moreover, by Norman’s headline. Drunk is drunk.

    • Cheerful soul says:

      No family seems to have escaped the catastrophic fall out from addiction; opiates are devastating. I too, believe Mr. Pape is sincere. I have had the honour and privilege of having met him several times. He is extremely professional, serious, polite and conscientious; rather quiet actually. A gentleman with an absolutely glorious voice .

  • yr hen efengyl says:

    Both leading professionals Rupert Neve and Jon Vickers believing what they did, would probably have quoted Christ’s words “he who has no sin, let him cast the first stone”.

  • Cheerful soul says:

    Good for him ! Takes a lot of you know what, to admit such a colossal error!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Proof positive that classical singers should sing and not talk. Keeping time would be helpful too. They should study a metronome daily.

  • Richard says:

    Jussi Bjorling was known to have a drinking problem.

  • alexy says:

    in vino veritas

  • Liloloperaluv says:

    The great German tenor, Fritz Wunderlich died quite young due to falling down stairs while inebriated. Fortunately, Mr Pape experienced a slip of the tongue (or keyboard) rather than of the foot.

  • René Hirschfeld says:

    I have known René for decades, in fact we studied together in Dresden. I am gay an never ever I had the feeling that could be a problem for him. And I know that he often worked with gay people, also as pianists for his Lieder-Recitals on stage. So, the outfall of a drunk and maybe at that time frustrated human should not be overestimated and made a topic for the greedy media of! However, good, that you apologized, René. And all the best to you!