Running Scared at the Met
For New Yorkers wanting and waiting to hear the great German tenor Jonas Kaufmann sing opera live, the best bet will be the April 12th concert performance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (Act II) at Carnegie Hall with Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Chances of Mr. Kaufmann appearing anytime soon at the Metropolitan Opera are just about zero despite the fact that he has been announced to sing in Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” next season.
The world’s most celebrated opera star is not happy with the Met for what he considers to be the unfair spin it put on his withdrawal from the company’s ill-fated New Year’s Eve “Tosca”, having few kind words for the New York opera company in a recent interview he gave The Spectator, a UK publication.
Kaufmann claims “the Met can’t even fill the house for Tosca….and refers to recent productions there as “not that good”. These are not the words of a man who intends to come back soon to the Lincoln Center opera house.
Making his return to the Met even more problematic is the climate of sexual harassment hysteria that currently exists in this country and particularly at the Metropolitan Opera where boss Peter Gelb appears to be in a state of full-blown #Me Too panic.
In The Spectator interview, Kaufmann revealed he too was a victim of sexual harassment in his early career but fears the pendulum now has swung too far the other way.
Referring to an encore he had prepared for a recent Santa Monica recital --“Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss”-- the tenor admitted to a certain hesitation whether the song was safe for him to do in the current environment.
Kaufmann is quoted, “If I have to ask myself whether these tiny little erotic hints that composers gave in the 1920’s are inappropriate, half of our operatic repertoire can not be played anymore.”
For someone sensitive to the stultifying effect the current sexual harassment environment can have on the performing arts, I doubt that Kaufmann and indeed many other top European artists will be indifferent to the fact that Met boss Peter Gelb is running scared from the ‘#Me Too McCarthyites’.
The entire opera world knows how badly Gelb treated the veteran English stage director John Copley at the Metropolitan Opera--and there will be serious push back from the mistreatment.
Due process, basic fairness, common decency and loyalty to a devoted artist all went out the window when Gelb got cold feet in the face of sexual harassment accusations against an 83-year old man.
Copley apparently made a stupid remark filled with sexual innuendo to one of the male choristers at a rehearsal who took offense and complained to management. That one complaint was enough for Gelb to fire Copley on the spot.
Gelb clearly over-reacted—a mere apology by Copley could have sufficed-- but the Met boss has the shortest fuse in town when it comes to sexual harassment because the opera company’s long-time music director James Levine is under investigation for decades-long real sexual abuse and more than a few insiders claim the Met was a Levine enabler by paying hush money to the victims’ parents.
Many artists with other performing options-- particularly European artists--will not want to work in a traumatized environment where you have to closely monitor what you say and how you behave lest some sensitive or politicized soul turns you into management for a quick and humiliating exit.
Backstage at the opera, after all, has never been a Scout camp and people have reputations to protect.
Giving Copley the quick boot on the slightest of slight provocations has made it perfectly clear to everyone that the Metropolitan Opera has become a very dangerous and unfriendly place to work.
Thanks to Peter Gelb’s weak-kneed leadership, echoes of ‘#Me Too McCarthyism’ now reverberate through the halls of the Metropolitan Opera instead of the world’s greatest opera voices.